World Bulletin/News Desk
U.S. President Barack Obama ruled out the use of U.S. troops in Iraq to combat the growing threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, but said that he would evaluate other options as he called on the Iraqi government to mend sectarian divides.
“We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraq’s security forces,” Obama told reporters Friday on the South Lawn of the White House. “And I’ll be reviewing those options in the days ahead.”
Still, any action that the U.S. takes will have to be matched by 'hard decisions' from Iraq’s leadership to bridge sectarian divides and promote stability throughout the country, said Obama.
“Iraq's leaders have to demonstrate a willingness to make hard decisions and compromises on behalf of the Iraqi people in order to bring the country together,” he said.
Obama added that the desertion of Iraqi security forces from their stations, which allowed ISIL to rapidly expand its reach in the country, was a result of Iraq’s political woes.
“The fact that they are not willing to stand and fight and defend their posts against admittedly hardened terrorists, but not terrorists who are overwhelming in numbers indicates that there's a problem with morale, there's a problem in terms of commitment, and ultimately that's rooted in the political problems that have plagued the country for a very long time.”
Obama said he would consult with the U.S. Congress in coming days. His fellow Democrats are reluctant to allow any U.S. engagement in Iraq after the lengthy war, which began with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple President Saddam Hussein.
But Republicans have been critical of the president for what they say has been dithering on Iraq.
"We shouldn't have boots on the ground, but we need to be hitting these columns of terrorists marching on Baghdad with drones now," said California Republican Ed Royce, the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
U.S. SURVEILLANCE IN IRAQ
The United States stepped up its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support this week at Baghdad's request, said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby. Some surveillance drones have been collecting data on rebel movements.
"We were surprised and disappointed by the poor performance of some Iraqi security force units (that are) up in the north. I'd be less than honest if I said that that performance instilled a lot of confidence. It didn't," he said.
Obama said he was concerned that ISIL could try to overrun Shi'ite sacred sites, creating sectarian conflicts "that could be very hard to stamp out."
Karbala, which is just over 100 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, is one of Shia Islam's holiest cities.
"This is a regional problem, and it is going to be a long-term problem. And what we're going to have to do is combine selective actions by our military to make sure that we're going after terrorists who could harm our personnel overseas or eventually hit the homeland," Obama said.
Obama said he wanted to review intelligence on the situation in Iraq so that any U.S. actions are "targeted, they are precise, and they are going to have an effect."
He noted that the U.S. has already "poured a lot of money into these Iraqi security forces."
Obama was expected to talk to foreign leaders about the situation over the weekend, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama on Air Force One on a previously scheduled trip to North Dakota. Obama was scheduled to spend the weekend in California.
Obama said the insurgency so far had not caused major disruptions to oil supplies from Iraq, but that if insurgents took control of refineries, other oil producers in the Middle East would need to help "pick up the slack."
"That will be part of the consultations that will be taking place during the course of this week," Obama said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-led government has failed to gain support from Iraq’s Sunni minority, heightening distrust of the central government.
ISIL, which has developed into a formidable force inside Syria, has extended its reach in Iraq since Tuesday, gaining near-complete control of the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit - Saddam Hussein’s birthplace - and capturing Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
The group seized large swaths of western Iraq’s Anbar Province in late December, including much of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, flashpoints of the 2003 US-led war in the country.
Recent reports place their forces within 70 kilometers of the capital.
American troops withdrew from the country in 2011.
Last Mod: 14 Haziran 2014, 09:33