Iraq’s leaders must make a “serious and sincere effort” to set aside sectarian differences if they want military assistance from the United States, President Obama warned Friday.
The president also said the rapid advances by Sunni Islamist forces in northern and western Iraq this week should “be a wake-up call” to the country’s leadership.
Although he ruled out sending troops to the strife-torn nation, Obama said the U.S. is ready to provide additional military assistance. However, he said the aid was conditional on the Iraqi government’s willingness to make reforms.
“We are not going to be able to do it for them,” he said in a brief news conference at the White House before leaving on a planned trip to North Dakota and the West Coast. Obama said the U.S. had gone to “extraordinary measures” to give Iraqis the opportunity for success.
Obama has been under pressure for days to respond to the rapid deterioration of Iraq’s U.S.-trained military at the hands of the Al Qaeda-inspired Sunni militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The group this week seized control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and Tikrit, and was threatening to march south to Baghdad, the capital.
Obama acknowledged Friday that the instability poses a danger to the Iraq and its people and “could eventually pose a threat to America and its interests as well.”
The president said he’d ordered his national security team to come up with options for military assistance, which he will review “in the days ahead.”
He has said that he is weighing “all the options” and has not ruled out airstrikes, but he noted Friday that “we will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq.”
Obama had met Thursday with his top security advisors, and he said then that over the last year the U.S. had been ramping up assistance for Iraq. He also indicated at that time that he may order direct military action in Iraq, a step he had ruled out since the U.S. ended its long war there.
His remarks Friday came after a number of former administration officials and private analysts urged strikes by drones or aircraft on ISIS forces.
U.S. officials had insisted for years that Iraq has been capable since the 2011 U.S. military departure of guaranteeing its own security.
Now the advance of ISIS has underscored significant weaknesses. Many Iraqi army troops have left their positions ahead of the militant group’s advance, abandoning their weapons and armored vehicles to the invaders.