White House

Obama on Iraq: ‘We Will Not Be Sending U.S. Troops Back Into Combat’

The White House is starting to piece together a response after an incredibly chaotic week in Iraq.

President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation in Iraq on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on June 13, 2014.
National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Kaveh Waddell and Brian Resnick
June 13, 2014, 8:03 a.m.

In a state­ment from the South Lawn on Fri­day, Pres­id­ent Obama made clear that his ad­min­is­tra­tion is deeply wor­ried about the de­teri­or­at­ing situ­ation in Ir­aq, and that he be­lieves the coun­try is un­likely to re­solve the crisis without out­side sup­port.

“We will not be send­ing U.S. troops back in­to com­bat in­to Ir­aq,” the pres­id­ent af­firmed. “But I have asked my na­tion­al se­cur­ity team to pre­pare a range of oth­er op­tions that could help sup­port Ir­aq se­cur­ity forces and I’ll be re­view­ing those op­tions in the days ahead.”

Obama made the re­marks be­fore leav­ing the White House for North Dakota, where he will meet with the Stand­ing Rock Sioux Tri­bal Na­tion. 

The Is­lam­ic State of Ir­aq and Syr­ia, a Sunni mil­it­ant group that was kicked out of al-Qaida in Feb­ru­ary for be­ing too vi­ol­ent, is driv­ing the de­teri­or­at­ing situ­ation in Ir­aq. Its cam­paign in Ir­aq began in the fi­nal days of 2013 in the em­battled An­bar province, and the group has taken over ma­jor Ir­aqi cit­ies with alarm­ing speed in the last week.

The pres­id­ent didn’t an­nounce any im­me­di­ate ac­tion, but rather said that the in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing pro­cess will take a peri­od of days. “People should not an­ti­cip­ate that this is something that is go­ing to hap­pen overnight,” he said. “We want to make sure that we have good eyes on the situ­ation there.”

CNN re­por­ted just be­fore the state­ment that the De­fense De­part­ment is plan­ning to move the air­craft car­ri­er USS George H.W. Bush in­to the Per­sian Gulf to give the U.S. op­tions for pos­sible strikes.

While the pres­id­ent said the U.S. will be mon­it­or­ing the situ­ation closely, he ad­ded that “ul­ti­mately it’s up to the Ir­aqis as a sov­er­eign na­tion to solve their prob­lems.”

Obama did not seem too op­tim­ist­ic about a hasty con­clu­sion to the con­flict. “This is a re­gion­al prob­lem, and it’s go­ing to be a long-term prob­lem,” he said. “And what we’re go­ing to have to do is com­bine se­lect­ive ac­tions by our mil­it­ary to make sure we’re go­ing after ter­ror­ists who could arm our per­son­nel over­seas or even­tu­ally hit the home­land.”

The mil­it­ant group has been eas­ily push­ing its way through ma­jor Ir­aqi cit­ies. “Four of Ir­aq’s 14 army di­vi­sions vir­tu­ally aban­doned their posts, stripped off their uni­forms, and fled when con­fron­ted in cit­ies such as Mo­sul and Tikrit by mil­it­ant groups,” The New York Times re­ports. The U.S. has spent $25 bil­lion train­ing and equip­ping the Ir­aqi mil­it­ary from 2003 to 2012.

“The fact that they are not will­ing to stand and fight and de­fend their posts against ad­mit­tedly hardened ter­ror­ists,” the pres­id­ent said Fri­day, “in­dic­ates that there a prob­lem with mor­ale, a prob­lem in terms of com­mit­ment, and ul­ti­mately that is rooted in the polit­ic­al prob­lems that have plagued the coun­try.”

Obama had said Thursday af­ter­noon that Ir­aq will need more help from the U.S., and that noth­ing was off the table. “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 that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is not con­sid­er­ing send­ing ground troops to the coun­try.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has so far denied Ir­aqi Prime Min­is­ter Nuri al-Ma­liki’s re­quests for U.S. air strikes against ex­trem­ists.

“This should be a wake-up call,” Obama said Fri­day. “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.”

Earli­er Fri­day, Ir­aq’s lead­ing Shiite cler­ic, Grand Ayatol­lah Ali al-Sis­t­ani, is­sued a call to arms to fight the Sunni mil­it­ants mov­ing through the coun­try. The pres­ence of elite Ir­a­ni­an troops and the in­volve­ment of Kur­d­ish pesh­merga forces from the north have com­plic­ated mat­ters fur­ther. The in­flux of Shiite and Kur­d­ish mi­li­tias in­to the fight with IS­IS risks turn­ing the con­flict in­to a sec­tari­an fight, com­plic­at­ing any re­sponse that the U.S. could have as the con­flict be­gins to look like a civil war.

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of this story mis­stated the size of IS­IS.

Contributions by Marina Koren and Matt Berman

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.