WASHINGTON DC, USA – Washington is ramping up support to Iraq with “all options” on the table, barring troops on the ground, as the Obama administration Thursday, June 12, was accused of being caught napping by a swift jihadist offensive.
Militants are closing fast on the capital Baghdad after sweeping up a huge swath of predominantly Sunni Arab territory in northern and north-central Iraq since launching their offensive in the second city Mosul late on Monday, June 9.
“Iraq is going to need more help from us and it’s going to need more help from the international community,” President Barack Obama said after talks in Washington with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
“Our national security team is looking at all the options… I don’t rule out anything,” Obama said, stressing “we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in Iraq or Syria.”
But he added that while “there will be some short-term immediate things that need to be done militarily,” the offensive by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) should also be a “wake-up call for the Iraqi government.”
US officials refused to say publicly what military options were being considered, except to rule out sending troops back into the country invaded by the US in 2003. (READ: Iraq suffers worst year of violence since 2008)
American forces withdrew abruptly in December 2011 after Washington and Baghdad failed to reach a deal to allow their continued presence.
Iraqi leaders have now asked the US to provide drone strikes to target militants moving in on the capital after seizing the cities of Mosul and Tikrit.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki – who has been accused of failing to work towards unity and reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite Muslims – and pledged “to intensify and accelerate security support and cooperation with Iraq,” the White House said.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Obama was “prepared to make key decisions in short order… options are on the table right now,” amid reports that a top policy meeting was held in the White House on Wednesday.
“Our team is working overtime on a range of options. That does not, include, to be clear, boots on the ground,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Some half a million people are said to have fled in the face of the ISIL assaults, joining more than another 1.4 million already displaced by the conflict. The US on Thursday unveiled a further $12.8 million to help refugees inside Iraq. (READ: More than 900 killed in Iraq in May – officials)
“The United States is concerned that the deteriorating security situation is deepening the humanitarian crisis in Iraq,” Psaki told reporters. (READ: Fighting in Iraq’s Anbar forces 500,000 to flee – UNHCR)
Obama and his national security team came under fire from lawmakers who denounced what they called a failed policy in both Iraq and neighboring Syria, where many ISIL members have been trained and armed in the three-year civil war.
Hawkish Republican Senator John McCain called for “drastic measures” to reverse the militant sweep and said Obama should sack his national security team for its failed policies in the Middle East.
“Get a new national security team in place. You have been ill-served,” he told Obama in an angry speech on the Senate floor.
House Speaker John Boehner snapped that the Obama administration has seen the pressure on Iraq’s government building for over a year but did little to help the authorities counter the insurgents. (READ: UN’s Ban urges Iraq to address ‘root causes’ of unrest)
“Now they’ve taken control of Mosul, they’re 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Baghdad,” Boehner told reporters.
“And what’s the president doing? Taking a nap.”
Since the Iraqi government refused to sign the Status of Forces Agreement in 2011, the Obama administration has portrayed the situation in Iraq as a problem to be tackled by the Baghdad government with military assistance from the US.
Obama again chided Iraq’s Shiite-led government.
“Frankly, over the last several years, we have not seen the kind of trust and cooperation develop between moderate Sunni and Shiite leaders inside of Iraq,” he reiterated Thursday. – Rappler.com