President Obama is warning of a lengthy bombing campaign in northern Iraq as U.S. airstrikes enter a fifth day. Over the weekend, U.S. warplanes and drones attacked what the Pentagon said were artillery positions and armored trucks belonging to the militant group Islamic State near the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil. Obama authorized the strikes last week in what he called an effort to halt the militants’ advance on Erbil, where the U.S. has a consulate and military personnel, as well as to prevent a massacre of the Yazidi minority. On Saturday, Obama suggested the U.S. bombing campaign could be a lengthy one.
President Obama: “I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks, if that’s what you mean. I think this is going to take some time.”
With U.S. strikes targeting the Islamic State from the air, Kurdish forces were able to retake two towns in northern Iraq on Sunday. The U.S. has also dropped emergency relief supplies to tens of thousands of Yazidis who’ve been trapped without food or water on Mount Sinjar, near the border with Syria. A Kurdish official says up to 30,000 Yazidis were able to cross over into Syria before returning to northern Iraq.
In his comments on Saturday, President Obama emphasized his claim that the U.S. is launching airstrikes mainly to protect American personnel in Erbil.
President Obama: “Wherever and whenever U.S. personnel and facilities are threatened, it’s my obligation, my responsibility as commander-in-chief, to make sure that they are protected. And we’re not moving our embassy any time soon. We’re not moving our consulate any time soon. And that means that given the challenging security environment, we’re going to maintain vigilance and ensure that our people are safe.”
Obama made no mention of the oil reserves in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, which account for about a quarter of Iraq’s total and are some of the largest in the world. ExxonMobil and Chevron are among several oil companies currently operating in Iraqi Kurdistan.
In his comments, Obama renewed his vow to prevent a return of U.S. combat forces to Iraq. He also kept up his call for Iraqi leaders in Baghdad to adopt a more inclusive government. But as Obama called for an end to Iraq’s political deadlock, tensions in Baghdad only grew. On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he would file a complaint against Iraqi President Fouad Massoum for failing to meet a deadline to nominate a new prime minister, which Maliki said should have come from his political bloc. Maliki also hinted at plans to run for a third term, defying calls for him to step aside for a new leader to repair Iraq’s sectarian divisions. Maliki has also reportedly deployed extra units of loyalist troops around key areas of Baghdad, fueling speculation he is seeking to avert a potential coup. In what could be the clearest indication to date that the Obama administration has broken with Maliki, the State Department issued a statement Sunday saying it “fully supports” the Iraqi president, Fouad Massoum. The statement continues: “We reaffirm our support for a process to select a Prime Minister who can represent the aspirations of the Iraqi people by building a national consensus and governing in an inclusive manner.”
As Obama engages in new military action in Iraq, his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has publicly criticized him for not intervening in Syria. In an interview with The Atlantic, Clinton called Obama’s lack of support for Syrian opposition forces during the early days of the country’s civil war a “failure.”
A new 72-hour truce in Gaza appears to be holding as talks to secure a lasting deal resume in Cairo. On Sunday, nine Palestinians died in Israeli airstrikes prior to the start of the new ceasefire. One Israeli strike destroyed the home of the mayor of Gaza City.
The death toll from the Israeli assault on Gaza is approaching 2,000, including at least 456 children. The U.N. says at least 425,000 Palestinians remain displaced — nearly a quarter of the population of Gaza. About 12,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged. The U.N. says around half of the population “remains without or with very little running water.” Survivors and residents in Gaza continue to speak out about the Israeli attacks that have killed family members and destroyed homes. One nine-year-old girl in Rafah survived an airstrike that killed 13 family members earlier this month.
Saja Zoughroub: “We were asleep. Some were watching television, and others were asleep. When I woke up, I was in the ambulance, and then they took me to the hospital. That’s what I remember. I stayed in the hospital for four days.”
Also in Rafah, a resident whose home was destroyed in an airstrike this weekend described fleeing just moments before the attack.
Hassan Nahal: “When they said that we have five minutes to leave, we ran away. They attacked two houses; mine and my brother’s house were destroyed. We are residents. We work all our life to make a house, and in one minute they destroy it.”
Israel continues to carry out raids and attacks in the occupied West Bank. On Sunday, hundreds gathered for the funeral of an 11-year-old Palestinian boy shot dead by Israeli forces near Hebron. The Israeli military says it opened fire in response to rock-throwing protesters. The family says the boy was a bystander.
Protests against the assault on Gaza continue around the world. Tens of thousands of people took part in a global day of action on Saturday. In London, the turnout was estimated to be at least 20,000 as demonstrators marched to Hyde Park. In South Africa, an estimated 50,000 people marched in Cape Town, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Police called it the city’s largest rally since the fall of apartheid. In Israel, hundreds of Israelis defied a police ban to rally in Tel Aviv. In New York City, thousands of people marched to the United Nations.
Ukrainian forces have ramped up their offensive on pro-Russian rebels in the eastern city of Donetsk. Over the weekend Ukraine launched its heaviest shelling of the city to date after rejecting a humanitarian ceasefire proposed by the rebels. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled amidst the fighting. On Sunday, the city’s main hospital was hit by shells for the second time in less than a week. Earlier today, rockets reportedly hit a prison in Donetsk, taking out the alarm system and allowing more than 100 prisoners to flee.
The executive director of Human Rights Watch has been denied entry to Egypt. Kenneth Roth was held for 12 hours at Cairo’s international airport along with HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson before being turned away. Roth and Whitson had flown to Egypt to mark the one-year anniversary of a mass shooting by state forces that killed hundreds of unarmed protesters opposing the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi. In a post on Twitter, Roth said: “[The] massacre numbers rank with Tiananmen and Andijan but Egypt gov’t wouldn’t let me in to present [a] report on it.”
Protests have broken out near St. Louis, Missouri, over a police shooting that killed an unarmed African-American teen. Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death in town of Ferguson on Saturday afternoon after being confronted by police. The St. Louis County Police is claiming Brown physically assaulted the officer involved and tried to reach for his weapon inside a police car. But two witnesses provided a sharply different account, with one saying Brown was shot with his arms up as he tried to flee the officer’s fire.
Dorian Johnson: “A police officer squad car pulled up. And when he pulled up, these was his exact words: He said, 'Get the f—- on the sidewalk.' And we told the officer we was not but a minute away from our destination, and we would surely be off the street.”
Piaget Crenshaw: “I witnessed the police chase after the guy, full force. He was unarmed. He ran for his life. They shot him, and he fell. He put his arms up to let them know he was compliant and that he was unarmed. And they shot him twice more, and he fell to the ground and died.”
Michael Brown had recently graduated from high school and was due to begin college courses next week. At the scene of the shooting, Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, spoke about the loss of her son.
Lesley McSpadden: “He don’t bother nobody. My son just turned 18 and graduated from high school, and he don’t bother nobody. I ain’t doing good. You got a life I can give to my son so he can come back?”
The unidentified officer who shot Brown has been put on administrative leave. Protests immediately erupted after the shooting, with demonstrators marching on the Ferguson police station. Some held their hands up in the air and chanted “don’t shoot me.” On Sunday night, thousands of people crammed the street where Brown was shot to hold a candlelight vigil. Afterward, a small group of people reportedly carried out acts of vandalism at several local stores and on vehicles, smashing windows and stealing goods. The St. Louis branch of the NAACP is calling on the Justice Department to investigate Brown’s killing for potential violations of civil rights.