It was only a few years ago that the Iraqi government appeared that it couldn’t get rid of American troops and support quickly enough. Now, after the stunning collapse of the Iraqi military, the Iraqi government has formally requested American support. While President has already ruled out troops on the ground, air strikes remain on the table.

Iraq air strikes

U.S. military officials have reportedly stated that Iraq has made a formal request for air strikes. In recent days more and more cities have fallen into the hands of radical Sunni group ISIS, and it is believed that the organization now has troops within 60 miles of Baghdad.

Tensions have been rising dramatically with Shia community leaders calling on Shias to rise up in arms and to defend their religion. Meanwhile, Kurds in Kirkuk have been engaging with ISIS troops, with the Kurds apparently having pushed back an advance.

Iraq crisis: US Assistance May Be Needed

Despite billions of dollars worth of equipment and American training, the Iraqi army has lost on nearly all fronts against ISIS forces. Worst of all, ISIS troops in Iraq are believed to number only a few thousand and were able to successfully dislodge government troops many times their number, sending them fleeing with their tails between their legs.

Such a massive retreat in the face of a comparably diminutive force could prove to be crippling to morale. At this point American air strikes may be needed just to give the Iraqi army confidence. With trillions of dollars worth of oil resting underneath Iraq and billions of dollars worth of American money having already been pumped into the country, there’s little chance the American government will simply let ISIS take the country over or push it towards complete collapse. At least not without a fight.

So far, the Obama administration has not decided to go forward with air strikes, but also hasn’t ruled it out. If it appears that air strikes are necessary. Obama will likely be inclined to give the green light. With no re-election to worry about and Iraq on the verge of collapse, Obama will be in a good position to roll the die.

Did Iraqi Premier Let ISIS Win?

Some believe that Premier Nouri Maliki actually let ISIS win. According to Christopher Helman over at Forbes, some insiders believe that the central government in Baghdad ordered a quick retreat and little resistance. By vacating Mosul, which lies very close to Kurdistan, the central government might be able to entice the Kurds and ISIS to fight it out.

This theory does make sense on some levels. If the the Kurds and ISIS end up in a full scale battle against one another, both sides could be weakened. Once ISIS was nearly finished off, the Iraqi national army could sweep in and deliver the fatal blow. Meanwhile, the Kurds will be weakened, and in a worse position to push for independence.

This theory doesn’t hold up to closer scrutiny, however. For one, no matter how you try to spin it having a well-equipped army numbering in the tens of thousand being defeated on numerous fronts by a ragtag group believed by most to number less than 10,000 does not look good. Indeed, the central Iraqi government has never looked weaker or more incompetent than it does now.

Further, ISIS appears to be more set on engaging the central government rather than Kurdistan, and this makes sense. With the exception of Kirkuk, the Kurdish people largely keep to their own areas within Iraq. While Saddam Hussein did persecute the Kurdish people, the biggest rivalry in Iraq has traditionally been between the Sunni and Shia population. As such, it should come as no surprise that ISIS is directing most of its troops against Baghdad, not Kurdistan.