U.S. warplanes launch airstrike on ISIS in Iraq

At the direct request of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, U.S.-led military warplanes have begun targeting ISIS positions in and around the Iraqi city of Tikrit. The aerial bombardment is meant to clear the way for Iraqi ground troops who have been unable to reclaim the city since it was overtaken by the Islamic State last June.

Iraq’s air force simply does not have the advanced capabilities and munitions required to conduct precision airstrikes, a spokesperson for the prime minister explained, which led to al-Abadi specifically asking for the U.S.-led coalition’s help.

The airstrike represents a reversal for the U.S., which up until now has stayed away from the month-long campaign to take the Sunni Iraqi city from ISIS, seemingly out of concern of tacitly supporting America’s main rival in the region, Iran, which is backing Shia militias involved in the ground offensive.

Officials in Washington have voiced considerable trepidation regarding the appearance of any sort of alliance with Iranian backed militias, many of which are accused–along with U.S.-trained Iraqi forces–of committing war crimes similar to those of the ISIS fighters they are battling.

There are also the tense ongoing negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program to consider. The Guardian reports that U.S.-support in Tikrit is “likely to reinvigorate speculation that US-led nuclear diplomacy with Iran will herald a far broader realignment of influence in the Middle East, with Obama tacitly backing away from traditional US opposition to Iranian regional ambitions.”

The situation is a bit of a “tight-rope walk” for the U.S. when it comes to balancing its interests in the region. It comes as Yemen has seen Shia Houthi rebels–which Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of supporting–overtake its capital, and as plans for an Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, which the U.S. has strongly opposed, seem to be moving forward.

And we haven’t even mentioned ISIS’s recent activity in Tataouine, the inspiration for the desert planet home of rebel Jedi Luke Skywalker.

It’s a real can of worms, to say the least.

UPDATE: Three major Shia militias that made up at least a third of the 30,000 fighters in the ground offensive to retake Tikrit have pulled out in protest of American involvement in the initiative.

Can. Of. Worms.

[Guardian]