For Maha Muhammed, who lives in Tikrit, turmoil in Iraq is not a thorny geopolitical problem to be solved. It is a fundamental reality with which she lives, day-by-day.
In recent days, ISIS (Islamists from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) forces have seized the northern Iraq cities of Mosul and Tikrit, the birthplace of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The lightning-fast advance of the Sunni militants – made faster by how readily American-trained government forces have surrendered or fled — has leaders in Baghdad and Washington, D.C. weighing what appear to be limited options.
“We are so scared from this,” said Muhammed, a teacher living in Tikrit. “You can’t believe how scared (we are). You must tell our loved ones, we are now under the (ISIS) control. They are so horrible. They are all criminal, so criminal.”
Her message to the American people and President Barack Obama is as simple as it is heartfelt. “I would ask him, please, we want you to help us. Please, we are in a horrible situation. And the Americans forces are the only hope we have, to save our lives and our kids’ lives. And that’s all.”
She identified the insurgents as “Sunni extremists who want to establish a Muslim state which strictly applies Muslim law.”
In Tikrit, Muhammed had no access to the Internet, but she was able to speak with the newspaper exclusively via cell for about 20 minutes Friday. She has worked with Ohio Army National Guard units which have served in Iraq.
A military response in Iraq is possible, but Obama ruled out returning U.S. ground forces. In a statement from the White House South Lawn, Obama said the U.S. “will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq.” Instead, his military advisors and national security team will review other options, including drone strikes and air support.
Brian Brackens, a Wright-Patterson Air Force Base spokesman, said he could not comment on whether any base personnel were in Iraq or would be sent there if called because of U.S. military intervention.
James Sims, an Ohio Air and Army National Guard spokesman in Columbus, said Friday the agency has no current plans to send personnel to Iraq. The Ohio Guard has more than 15,000 soldiers and airmen.
OSU expert says even airstrikes require troops on the ground
Air strikes require boots on the ground, said Peter Monsoor, Ohio State University associate professor of history and a retired U.S. Army colonel who served as executive officer to Gen. David Petraeus, the American general who led the multi-national force in Iraq during the allied “surge” in 2007-08. Monsoor served in Iraq for 28 months over two combat tours.
Air strikes will require “people with radios and intelligence capabilities to determine what the right targets are,” Monsoor said. “Otherwise, you’re flying around striking targets that you have no idea what they are, and you could end up killing innocent people, you could end up hitting the wrong targets.
“Any kind of military intervention would require not just air power, but forward air controllers, Special Forces teams and perhaps, if you want to be broadly more effective, advisory teams to help the Iraqi army regenerate its combat power, because clearly it has deteriorated since the last U.S. combat forces left in 2011,” he said.
Monsoor sees today’s turmoil as the predictable outcome of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-based rule, which he says has “alienated” large swaths of the nation’s population.
“He has driven them into the hands of the armed opposition,” Monsoor said.
“Insurgents are everywhere,” Muhammed said. “Also, now we have air strikes. The (Iraqi government) military planes are trying to attack the insurgents’ stations. They (insurgents) are now in the palaces, the president’s (Hussein’s) palaces. … the Iraqi military has tried to hunt them.”
“We don’t know what will happen,” she said. “We are afraid of what will happen. The insurgents have asked every policeman, (have instructed police officers) to go the (local) mosque. … I don’t know. The situation is so horrible. I’m afraid the insurgents will rise against our houses and cause the …, I don’t know. No one knows will happen then.”
The insurgents are civilians and well-armed, she added. “Their accents, they are not from Iraq. They are from Syria, I think, and other Arab countries.”
“They free many prisoners,” Muhammed said of ISIS fighters. “They go to the jail here in Tikrit and freed many extremists.”
She said on Thursday, insurgents killed nine Tikriti men, men she believed to be police officers, and dumped their bodies “in the street.”
“We are now under their control,” she said. “It is so horrible.”
Some al-Qaida say ISIS is too ‘extreme’
Monsoor noted that even some elements of al-Qaida have rejected ISIS as too “extreme.”
“When al-Qaida labels a group as extreme, you know there is very little room to be more extreme than that,” he said.
Monsoor said the U.S. needs to make sure the “politics (in Iraq) are right.” Intervening in a Sunni-Shia civil war makes little sense “unless we are supporting a government that is worth supporting.”
“So I think as a condition of U.S. aid, we should demand reforms in the Iraqi government, and make it a true government of national unity, to make it a government that all Iraqis can support, ” Monsoor said. “And only then should we provide assistance to Baghdad.”
Vaughn Shannon, a Wright State University associate professor of political science, believes a resolution that doesn’t include U.S. troops is possible. But that’s not the long-term solution, he cautioned.
“I think Obama’s saying we can’t bomb our way out of the long-term problem,” Shannon said.
“Drone strikes or air strikes are possible if it looks things are going to get out of hand,” he said. “If Baghdad looks genuinely jeopardized, I can’t imagine us letting Baghdad fall or the al-Maliki regime fall.”
The speed of ISIS’ movement indicates “The Iraqi army we trained and aided before our departure and continue to arm and aid is not up to the task. I don’t know why. Because they don’t care about the regime or the idea of Iraq as much as their own politics or loyalties.
“They outnumbered ISIS yet seemed to turn tail and drop their weapons.”
Staff writer Barrie Barber contributed to this report.
Iraq crisis to impact gas prices
Expect to pay more for gas because of teh situation in Iraq, said Patrick DeHann, an analyst with GasBuddy.com, which monitors gas prices nationally with allied web sites.
“The Iraqi factor really hit yesterday,” DeHann said. “Wholesale gas prices were up about eight and a half cents per gallon yesterday in markets.”
“If it gets worse, you can expect more price increased related to Iraq,” he added.