Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014

Obama unlikely to deepen Iraq military involvement, say U.S. officials

It's unclear whether the beheading of Foley will turn the tide of public opinion, but support for military action appears to be growing. (Source: AP) It's unclear whether the beheading of Foley will turn the tide of public opinion, but support for military action appears to be growing. (Source: AP)
Reuters | Washington | Posted: August 21, 2014 12:35 pm

strategy is to (help Iraqis) push them back from territory they’ve gained,” a second U.S. official said.

As U.S. air strikes gather momentum, so too have Islamic State threats against the United States. On Monday, the group promised to “drown all of you (Americans) in blood.” The next day, before the video of Foley’s killing surfaced, another message warned of a holy war against “crusader” America.

While there have been fears for several years that jihadists with European or U.S. passports could launch an attack in the West, the United States has avoided aggressive intervention in Iraq, leaving Iraqi forces to the fight the militants — a position generally supported by public opinion polls.

A Reuters-IPSOS Poll in June, for instance, showed that 55 percent of those surveyed would disagree with the Obama administration involving the U.S. military in Iraq. Only 20 percent of Americans polled would support military action in Iraq, according to the poll.
It’s unclear whether the beheading of Foley will turn the tide of public opinion, but support for military action appears to be growing. A poll this week, before the Foley video was published, showed that most Americans approve of U.S. air strikes in Iraq and an increasing number thought the United States has a responsibility to act there.

U.S. soldiers attempted to rescue Foley and other Americans held in Syria earlier this summer, but were unsuccessful, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

“The effort to roll (Islamic State) back into (Syria) is a commitment the administration has been unwilling to make,” said Faysal Itani, a Middle East expert at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. “The death of this man, however tragic, will not cause a fundamental recalculation of that policy.”

While chances of deeper involvement are slim for now, the United States risks being pulled further into the Iraq-Syria conflict if the threat from Islamic State grows. That may force U.S. officials to revive options that military leaders presented in the past, such as launching air strikes in Syria. Other options could include drone attacks in parts of eastern Syria that Assad does not control, as has been done in areas of Pakistan and Yemen.

“Obama is being dragged into this,” said James Jeffrey, a veteran diplomat who was U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2010-2012. “His reluctance is simply untenable.”

Washington has also sent over 800 soldiers to Iraq since June. On Wednesday, U.S. officials said that up to 300 additional military personnel could be sent to Iraq to provide security for U.S. diplomats.   (Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Lesley Wroughton. Writing By Missy Ryan. Editing by Jason Szep and Peter Henderson)

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