Obama: U.K. and France Will Join U.S. In Delivering Aid to Iraq

The president made a short statement and answered questions on Iraq Saturday morning.

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters take position on the front line in Khazer, near the Kurdish checkpoint of Aski kalak, 40 km West of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on August 8, 2014. 
National Journal
Matt Berman Clare Foran
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Matt Berman Clare Foran
Aug. 9, 2014, 5:15 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama an­nounced that Bri­tain and France will join the United States’ hu­man­it­ari­an ef­forts in Ir­aq dur­ing a Sat­urday morn­ing news con­fer­ence from the White House’s South Lawn.

“This morn­ing I spoke with Prime Min­is­ter Camer­on from the United King­dom and Pres­id­ent Hol­lande from France and I’m pleased both lead­ers ex­press strong sup­port for ac­tions and agreed to join us in provid­ing hu­man­it­ari­an as­sist­ance,” he said. Obama did not say if France and Bri­tain would be aid­ing in mil­it­ary ef­forts against IS­IS.

Obama also ad­dressed the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s goal in con­duct­ing strikes on Is­lam­ic State in Ir­aq and Syr­ia tar­gets. The “ini­tial goal is to not only make sure amer­ic­ans are pro­tec­ted, but also to deal with this hu­man­it­ari­an situ­ation in Sin­jar,” he said. “We feel con­fid­ent that we can pre­vent ISIL from go­ing up a moun­tain and slaughter­ing the people that are there, but the next step is how do we get safe pas­sage to the people down from the moun­tain and how do we re-loc­ate them so that they are safe,” the pres­id­ent said.

“So far these strikes have suc­cess­fully des­troyed arms and equip­ment that ISIL ter­ror­ists could have used against Er­bil,” Obama said. He con­tin­ued, say­ing that “If these ter­ror­ists threaten our fa­cil­it­ies or our per­son­nel, we will take ac­tion to pro­tect our people.”

IS­IS’ ad­vance over re­cent months “has been more rap­id than the in­tel­li­gence es­tim­ates, and I think the ex­pect­a­tions of poli­cy­makers, both in and out­side of Ir­aq,” he said.

“We have to make sure that ISIL is not en­ga­ging in the ac­tions that could cripple a coun­try per­man­ently,” he said, adding that the U.S. has been “work­ing di­li­gently…for a long time” on a “coun­terter­ror­ism ele­ment” to make sure mil­it­ants in Syr­ia and Ir­aq don’t launch at­tacks on west­ern or Amer­ic­an tar­gets.

Obama em­phas­ized that his ad­min­is­tra­tion is fo­cused on get­ting a new Ir­aqi gov­ern­ment “formed and fi­nal­ized,” put­ting more pres­sure on cur­rent Ir­aqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki. “It is so im­port­ant to have an Ir­aqi gov­ern­ment on the ground that is tak­ing re­spons­ib­il­ity, that we can help, that we can part­ner with, that has the ca­pa­city to get al­li­ances in the re­gion,” he said. Ma­liki is quickly los­ing al­lies around Ir­aq, in­clud­ing among his own State of Law party, and the U.S. has re­portedly pushed for his ouster.

When asked about a timeline for end­ing U.S. in­ter­ven­tion in Ir­aq, the pres­id­ent did not com­mit to a firm date: “I don’t think we’re go­ing to solve this prob­lem in weeks”¦.I think this is go­ing to take some time. […] This is go­ing to be a long-term pro­ject.”

The pres­id­ent was adam­ant, however, that the U.S. would con­tin­ue to play a lim­ited role in ad­dress­ing the con­flict.

“The nature of this prob­lem is not one that a U.S. mil­it­ary can solve,” Obama said. “We can as­sist, and our mil­it­ary can ob­vi­ously play an ex­traordin­ary role in bol­ster­ing ef­forts of an Ir­aqi part­ner as they make the right steps to keep their coun­try to­geth­er, but we can’t do it for them.”

The pres­id­ent said that he will con­tin­ue to con­sult with Con­gress as op­er­a­tions go on. Right now, he said, his ad­min­is­tra­tion does not need any ad­di­tion­al fund­ing from Con­gress for the op­er­a­tions.

The first U.S. air­strikes in Ir­aq came early Fri­day morn­ing, just hours after Obama an­nounced that he had au­thor­ized strikes against IS­IS tar­gets to go along with hu­man­it­ari­an aid to the tens of thou­sands of refugees un­der siege by the ex­trem­ist group. The ini­tial strikes, com­ing in two rounds an­nounced by the Pentagon, tar­geted IS­IS mor­tar po­s­i­tions as well as a vehicle con­voy and were said to have “suc­cess­fully elim­in­ated” IS­IS mil­it­ants.

On Sat­urday morn­ing, more hu­man­it­ari­an air­drop op­er­a­tions were con­duc­ted over Sin­jar Moun­tain, drop­ping more than 28,000 meals ready to eat and over 1,500 gal­lons of drink­ing wa­ter.

Des­pite U.S. in­ter­ven­tion, the situ­ation in Ir­aq con­tin­ues to de­teri­or­ate. Ir­aqi of­fi­cials said Sat­urday that IS­IS had taken hun­dreds of wo­men host­age. The kid­nap­pings tar­geted Yazidi wo­men, ad­her­ents of a re­li­gion that blends Is­lam, Chris­tian­ity and Zoroastri­an­ism.

Later Sat­urday morn­ing, Pres­id­ent Obama will head to Martha’s Vine­yard, Mas­sachu­setts.

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