The United States on Monday claimed the first major victory of its renewed military engagement in Iraq — Iraq 3.0 — announcing the recapture of the strategic Mosul Dam.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces took back the dam after two days of intense US airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria positions, handing the insurgents their worst defeat yet.
“Today, with our support Iraqi and Kurdish forces took a major step forward by recapturing the largest dam in Iraq near the city of Mosul,” said President Barack Obama at a briefing.
The recapture, he added, demonstrated Iraqi and Kurdish forces were capable of fighting together against the ISIL and they will have “strong” US support so long as they did so.
He returned briefly from vacation to take stock of situations in Iraq and closer home in Missouri, which has been rocked by protests over the killing of an African American man.
Moving past the recapture of the Dam, Obama stressed the need for “a long-term strategy to turn the tide against ISIL”. The key to that was an inclusive government in Baghdad.
Over the next few weeks, the president said, Prime Minister-designate Haider al Abadi “needs to complete the work of forming a new, broad-based, inclusive Iraqi government”.
Obama allowed himself to be dragged back into Iraq, at the urging of the previous Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki, to help the struggling nation against the ISIL.
President Obama first sent in a few hundred military advisers and followed it up ordering airstrikes on August 8, just hours after the Mosul Dam fell to ISIL fighters.
“Since Aug. 8, U.S. Central Command has conducted a total of 68 airstrikes in Iraq,” said US CENTCOM (central command), 35 of them in support of Iraqi forces near the dam.
The president insisted he is committed to the “limited mission” he has authorized in Iraq, but the escalation in US military engagement has not escaped notice or comment. Is it “mission creep in Iraq”, he was asked.
Obama rejected the possibility outright: “I have been firm from the start that we are not reintroducing thousands of U.S. troops back on the ground to engage in combat.”
But, he conceded, the United States had a responsibility to stop “a savage group that seems willing to slaughter people for no rhyme or reason other than they have not kowtowed to them”.
That’s the ISIL, an al-Qaeda breakaway group infinitely more brutal and repressive, that swept through vast swathes of Iraq unchallenged by local security forces. And there are legitimate US interests threatened by ISIL.
For one, if the dam was breached, the Obama administration told congress past Sunday, it would have flooded many areas downstream including the US embassy.
And, two, if the outfit was not contained now (al Qaeda was not mentioned but the reference was clear), the president said, “ultimately they can pose a threat to us”.