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The U.S. Is Bombing Iraq Because of ISIS. What That Means and Why It’s a Big Deal

A major conflict in Iraq involving the extremist group ISIS is only getting worse.

So bad that U.S. started an airstrike there today to try and stop them.

This is a HUGE deal because it is the first U.S. involvement there since the last of our troops were pulled from Iraq in 2011. And another war in Iraq is the last thing most Americans want.

ISIS is targeting a religious sect, known as the Yazidi. (Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak/Flickr)

The situation in Iraq, in a nutshell

The U.S. is getting involved in Iraq in 2 ways:

1. Targeted airstrikes over northern Iraq to protect American personnel.

2. Emergency assistance to Iraqi civilians, dropping food and water to help stranded religious minorities.

Wait, why is the U.S. getting involved in Iraq?

While the conflict between Israel and Gaza has been in the news a lot, seriously scary stuff is going on in Iraq.

The crisis in Iraq has displaced over 500,000 people because of the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS. They are taking over regions in northern Iraq.

They just took control of the Mosul Dam, the biggest dam in Iraq, which is really scary because we don't know what they plan to do with it.

Mosul Dam hydro power plant Iraq

Mosul Dam has a hydro power plant on it. (Wikimedia Commons)

If they decide to close the dam, they could either withhold water from citizens or flood a huge part of northern Iraq.

aerial view mosul dam iraq

An aerial view of Mosul Dam. You can easily see the flood risk from this vantage point. (Ali Haidar Khan / Wikimedia Commons)

Either way, A LOT of people would be killed.

Oh, and ISIS controls more territory than any other extremist group has before. So that pretty much explains why we're bombing Iraq right now.

So, what's the plan?

Erbil, Iraq

Erbil, Iraq, in 2012. (Jason@Dynamicmoment / Flickr)

This is all happening around the northern city of Erbil.

And the airstrikes are basically serving 2 purposes:

  • First, we want to stop militants closing in on the northern city of Erbil. (There is a U.S. consulate in the city.)
  • Second, we want to help the Yazidis, a religious minority in the area. They are literally stranded in the Sinjar mountains and running out of food and water.

As many as 40,000 Yazidis fled to the mountains to escape ISIS. More than 40 children have already died from dehydration. Horrible.

Has this already begun?

Yep. This morning U.S. jet fighters dropped 2 500-pound bombs on ISIS military bases outside the city of Erbil.

Humanitarian supplies, including food and water, were dropped for the Yazidis last night.

President Obama gave the "OK" to both actions Thursday night. He said that we have to protect American personnel and prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe":

"When many thousands of innocent civilians are faced with the prospect of being wiped out, we will take action."

Here's Obama giving the green light:

So, what's next?

Well, this morning was just the FIRST of a series of U.S. airstrikes. It's sort of unclear what's to come. (We hope it's not all-out war.)

Why the crisis in Iraq is a BIG deal

These airstrikes are the first U.S. offensive since the last of our troops were withdrawn from Iraq in 2011.

Obama has sent more than 700 troops to Iraq since June to protect the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and facilities in Erbil. But he made a pledge to not get involved in another Iraq war. (A huge part of his campaign to become President was to end the war in Iraq.)

This is Secretary of State John Kerry arriving at the Baghdad airport in 2013 to be taken, by helicopter, to the U.S. embassy.

This is Secretary of State John Kerry arriving at the Baghdad airport in 2013 to be taken, by helicopter, to the U.S. embassy. (United States Government Work / Flickr)

Most Americans DON'T want any part in overseas conflicts. That means staying away from war.

There are different views regarding what justifies sending American troops overseas.

So it's a sticky situation. On one hand, we don't want our U.S. involvement in Iraq to lead to a war. But, President Obama says there is a moral obligation to help the thousands of civilians threatened by ISIS.

ISIS has been declared a worse threat than Al-Qaeda (the extremists behind the 9/11 attacks).

They are evolving into an army in Iraq, and they have gained A LOT of territory in a short amount of time. They just took control over Mosul, Iraq's second most populous city.

Iraqis displaced from Mosul in June, getting help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Iraqis displaced from Mosul in June, getting help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (AcnurLasAmericas / Flickr)

Combine the territory they have in Iraq with their territory in Syria, and you have enough land to roughly equal the size of Belgium.

Tens of thousands of Christians fled Qaraquosh (Iraq's biggest Christian town) after they were threatened to convert to Islam or be killed.

So the idea is to help the Iraqis who have been persecuted and displaced, and try to start pushing ISIS back. Will it work?

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The U.S. Is Bombing Iraq Because of ISIS. What That Means and Why It’s a Big Deal

Olivia Prentzel

Olivia is an editorial assistant at The Record, New Jersey’s second largest daily newspaper. She’s a former BBC Travel intern and a proud Rutgers alum. She studied journalism, media studies, and English at Rutgers, where she was managing editor of the daily student newspaper and editor-in-chief of HerCampus.com/Rutgers . She was also on the rowing and triathlon teams. Dogs, summer, and DIY projects are up there on the list of her much-loved things in life. Follow: @OlivePretzel.

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