On 19 August, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria published a video called “Message to America,” which showed the gruesome and tragic beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley. The group has threatened the beheading of a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff, who is also being held in Syria if the Obama administration does not stop airstrikes against ISIS strongholds. The speaker in the video of Foley’s execution appeared to have a British accent.
A day before the video of Foley’s execution was released; ISIS released another video directed toward America. The video, “A message from ISIS to US”, states “We will drown all of you in blood.” It goes on to warn that ISIS “will attack Americans anywhere if U.S. airstrikes hit Islamic State militants.” The video shows footage of US military vehicles being targeted by IEDs, and images believed to depict the mass execution of Iraqi troops. Shortly after the US announced airstrikes on ISIS targets in early August, ISIS took to social media to call on sleeper cells to attack US interests around the world.
The US initiated limited airstrikes against ISIS targets two weeks ago, following the capture of Mosul Dam and the mass evacuation of Yazidi Iraqis in Northern Iraq. ISIS has reportedly kidnapped and killed hundreds of Yazidis, and has threatened to kill thousands more. The evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Yazidis into Mount Sinjar escalates Iraq’s appalling humanitarian crises at the hands of ISIS. Nearly 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced in 2014. Obama has called ISIS “a threat to all Iraqis and the entire region.”
The video depicting Foley’s execution was released a day after Kurdish troops, with the aid of US air strikes, wrested control of Mosul Dam, which had been captured by ISIS in early August. Mosul Dam holds back approximately 11 billion cubic metres of water. In ISIS hands, the dam could be used as a weapon of mass destruction, with the ability to flood Mosul and nearby cities, reaching as far as Baghdad. The structure is intact, now protected by Kurdish forces. Small skirmishes still continue in the area.
ISIS fighters have fallen back on Tikrit, which has been under the militant group’s control for over two months despite multiple attempts by Iraqi forces to retake the city. The repeated failed offensives against ISIS in Tikrit reveal the poor condition of the Iraqi military. ISIS has a firm stronghold on the city; meanwhile, at estimates show that at least seven of Iraq’s 16 army divisions have been rendered ineffective since the start of 2014.
The videos released by ISIS have not slowed US intentions to continue airstrikes in ISIS controlled areas. President Obama has not issued a timeframe for the campaign against ISIS; the US air forces have bombed at least 90 targets, including ISIS vehicle convoys, mobile artillery and fixed positions. The bulk of airstrikes have occurred over the past few days near Mosul dam. Other strikes have been near the Kurdish capital, Ebril, where ISIS forces were attempting to advance; and Mount Sinjar, where the Yazidi population evacuated after ISIS displaced them from their homes.
Meanwhile, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has launched a massive aid operation to reach over half a million people displaced by the fighting in northern Iraq. Aid will be sent to Iraqis through Jordan via air, Turkey via road, and Dubai and Iran via sea. The US, UK and other nations have air dropped food and water in the past weeks; the UNHCR airlift of supplies via Jordan will begin today.