Beijing 'open' to US airstrikes in Iraq

Updated: 2014-08-09 01:49

By ZHANG YUNBI in Beijing and AGENCIES in Baghdad and Washington (China Daily)

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Washington shifts its stance as 'humanitarian disaster' worsens

Beijing 'open' to US airstrikes in Iraq

Sailors guide an F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Valions of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 15 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) in the Gulf, in this handout image taken and released on August 8, 2014. Two F/A-18 aircraft from the squadron conducted an airstrike on Friday against Islamic State artillery used against Kurdish forces defending the city of Arbil, near US personnel, a Pentagon spokesman said. [Photo/Agencies]

Beijing responded on Friday to US President Barack Obama's announcement of airstrikes against extremists in Iraq, stating it has an "open attitude" to actions that respect Iraqi sovereignty and contribute to security there.

US military aircraft conducted an airstrike on Friday against Islamic State artillery used against Kurdish forces defending the city of Arbil, near US personnel, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Arbil, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

The airstrike announcement may come at some risk to Obama's political credibility, because of his withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, yet a powerful US intervention appears necessary when most nations and policymakers have no better options.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told China Daily on Friday before the strikes that Beijing "takes an open attitude toward any actions that facilitate ensuring security and stability in Iraq on the precondition of respecting Iraq's sovereignty".

Beijing supports efforts made by Iraq in safeguarding sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity as well as combating terrorism, the ministry said.

Beijing "hopes that Iraq returns to stability and normalcy soon", it added.

Li Shaoxian, vice-president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations and a Middle East affairs expert, said Obama's announcement of airstrike authorization signifies a shift in US policy regarding Islamic State forces but was not tough enough to be labeled a turnaround.

"The decision was timely, made to deal with the urgency of the humanitarian disaster in Iraq. There is a growing likelihood of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant laying a solid foundation for ruling and occupying Iraq," Li said.

On Thursday, the UN Security Council condemned attacks on ethnic minorities in northern Iraq by Islamic State insurgents. About 50,000 people in the region have been forced out of their homes.

Peter Foster, US editor of The Daily Telegraph, said in a commentary that Obama "has been a reluctant warrior during his time as US president, but has taken a bold step, underwriting efforts to find a political solution in Iraq with hard American power".

Xinhua News Agency questioned the future of the plan and said, "The situation is fraught with both political and military pitfalls, and there are no clear answers on the best path forward for the United States".

Yin Gang, a researcher of Middle East affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the US military, by dispatching fighter jets to bomb the extremists' arsenal site, probably "will rein in the rampant momentum of ISIL", but "currently, there is no need for the US army to start ground battles".

Foster estimated that "very soon, unless the Islamic State conducts a tactical withdrawal, we can expect to see US drones and ground-attack aircraft striking hard at the jihadists and the heavy weaponry with which they have comprehensively outgunned the Peshmerga" (Kurdish fighters in the north of Iraq).

The Associated Press said that the US president's authorization of airstrikes "threatens to upend his legacy as the commander-in-chief who ended the long, unpopular war that killed nearly 4,500 American troops".

For Obama, the threat "could hardly come at a worse time", because "his overall approval ratings have plummeted, as has the public's opinion of his foreign policy", AP added.

Tens of thousands of people are in urgent need of life-saving assistance due to the violence in Sinjar in northwest Iraq, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Thursday.

Obama also announced that the US had launched airdrops of food and water to civilians.

Militants seized Qaraqosh, Iraq's biggest Christian town, prompting members of the Yazidi community to flee.