In the last few months, a militant group has swept across Iraq, taking over city after city. Baghdad may be next, and Washington is, for now, watching it happen in shock.
President Obama spoke to reporters briefly Thursday afternoon about the worsening situation in the country. "What we've seen over the last couple of days indicates the degree to which Iraq's going to need more help," he said. "It's going to need more help from us, and it's going to need more help from the international community."
President Obama: Nothing Is Off the Table on Iraq
He added: "This should be a wake-up call for the Iraqi government."
For the U.S., nothing is off the table right now. "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," he said. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney later clarified: the administration is not considering sending ground troops into Iraq.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a Sunni militant group, has seized some of the largest cities in Iraq this week.
And the U.S. has to act fast. "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, and our national security team is looking at all the options," Obama said.
The White House has been consulting with Iraqi officials about ISIS for months, the president said. It has provided authorities there with military equipment and intelligence support. The New York Times reported Wednesday that the administration has so far denied Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's appeals for U.S. airstrikes against extremists.
Several members of Congress who served in Iraq said Thursday that seeing conditions there deteriorate so quickly was like watching all of their progress get thrown away.
"Going out across the desert I remember the feelings that you have, wondering if you're going to make it out alive," said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa. "Right now I wonder what that was all about. What was the point of all of that?"