President Obama said Thursday it is now clear Iraq will need help from the United States as the situation there deteriorates, adding that he wouldn't "rule out anything," including drone strikes and air strikes, but not ground troops.
"What we’ve seen over the last couple of days indicates the degree to which Iraq’s going to need more help," Obama said during a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the White House. "So my team is working around the clock to identify how we can provide the most effective assistance to them. I don’t rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter."
U.S. officials in Congress and the White House have been mulling options on how to help Iraqis, including potential air strikes, for awhile, but insurgents have made rapid gains in the last few days. The country was on the brink of disintegration Thursday as al-Qaeda-inspired fighters bore down on Baghdad and Kurdish soldiers seized the city of Kirkuk without a fight. So far this June 701 civilians have already been killed in Iraq, according to Iraq Body Count.
Obama said the U.S. government hoped to provide relief as soon as possible. "I think it’s fair to say that, in our consultations with the Iraqis, there will be some short-term, immediate things that need to be done militarily," he said.
At a press briefing, Jay Carney clarified some of the president's comments, saying “We are not contemplating ground troops. I want to be clear about that." He continued, "When he said that he’s not ruling anything out he was responding to the question about air strikes and would he consider air strikes and that’s what he meant.”
Obama also said that there were political ways to provide relief for Iraqi citizens which would have to originate from the Iraqi government. "But this should be also a wake-up call for the Iraqi government," he said. "There has to be a political component to this so that Sunni and Shia who care about building a functioning state that can bring about security and prosperity to all people inside of Iraq come together and work diligently against these extremists. And that is going to require concessions on the part of both Shia and Sunni that we haven’t seen so far."
The United States has grown less supportive of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over the years, as order in the country has disintegrated. Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Associated Press yesterday, “He’s obviously not been a good prime minister."
Dovetailing with recent addresses the president has given on American foreign policy, Obama ended by discussing the longterm role the United States will have in countries like Iraq.
"We’re not going to be able to be everywhere all the time," he said. "But what we can do is to make sure that we are consistently helping to finance, train, advise military forces with partner countries, including Iraq, that have the capacity to maintain their own security. And that is a long and laborious process, but it’s one that we need to get started."