NEW DELHI: The United States on Monday carried out air strikes against the Islamic State (IS) near Baghdad in the south and Sinjar in the north, saying that the attack was in support of Iraqi security forces who were being targeted by the militants.

US officials said that Iraq requested the assistance. The strikes are the first time that the US has acted directly in support of Iraqi forces, following a speech by President Obama that outlined a new strategy for fighting the IS. Previous air strikes conducted by the US have been limited to protecting US interests and personnel, assisting Iraqi refugees and minorities under attack, and securing critical infrastructure.

In his speech on the eve of September 11, President Obama outlined a four step expanded strategy against the IS, comprising of air strikes, support to on-the-ground partner forces, counter terrorism efforts and humanitarian assistance.

The new strategy has not gotten approval from the US Congress as yet, with the Obama administration maintaining that it has the authority to act independently. However, as pointed out by The Citizen in a previous report, this authority stems from two key Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs): a 2001 authorisation to act against the Al Qaeda and a 2002 authorisation for the Iraq war. The Obama administration has thus far called for the appeal of the 2002 Iraq authorisation, but may need to fall back on it as the link between the Islamic State and Al Qaeda is now tenuous, with both having denounced each other, thereby bringing into doubt the applicability of the 2001 authorisation. The 2002 authorisation is also not a blanket approval, as Congress will have to decide whether this campaign against the IS constitutes a new war in Iraq, or whether an authorisation formulated in 2002 can still apply.

Nevertheless, the US has already found allies for its expanded campaign. France was one of the first countries to express support, with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius saying “"In Iraq... we support the formation of an inclusive government. We will participate if necessary in an aerial military action.”

The US also received support from ten Arab countries: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and six Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and Qatar. "The participating states agreed to do their share in the comprehensive fight against ISIL, including ... as appropriate, joining in the many aspects of a coordinated military campaign against ISIL," a statement, following a meeting between Arab countries’ leaders -- which excluded Iran and Syria -- and US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

On Sunday, US officials said that several Arab countries had offered to join the US in conducting air strikes against IS, with a senior State Department official saying, “A lot of this is still in the discussion phase, but I want to be clear that there have been offers, both to Centcom and to the Iraqis, of Arab countries taking more aggressive kinetic action against ISIL.”

In the meanwhile, Germany ruled out the prospect of taking part in air strikes in Iraq or Syria. "To be quite clear, we have not been asked to do so and neither will we do so," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at a news conference in Berlin. Germany however, is already providing equipment to Kurdish fighters battling IS militants in Iraq.

The United Kingdom has given a mix response, with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond initially saying that the UK had “ruled out nothing” in reference to airstrikes and following that with a clarification that said, “Let me be clear: Britain will not be taking part in any airstrikes in Syria. We have already had that discussion in our parliament last year and we won't be revisiting that position."

There has however, been criticism of the US expanded operations, especially in regard to its applicability to Syria. In his speech, Obama indicated that the strikes apply to Syria as well, when he said, “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq.”

The Syrian government immediately responded with a warning that any foreign intervention in the country will amount to a an act of aggression unless it is approved by Damascus. Ali Haidar, minister of national reconciliation affairs, speaking to reporters in the Syrian capital, said, “Any action of any type without the approval of Syrian government is an aggression against Syria. There must be cooperation with Syria and coordination with Syria and there must be a Syrian approval of any action whether it is military or not."

Russia following with a strong condemnation as well saying that such an action would be a “gross violation” of international law. "The US president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the US armed forces against Isis positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich said. "This step, in the absence of a UN security council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law."