Obama Urges Quick, Peaceful Political Transition in Iraq

The president paused his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to address the situation in the Middle East.

Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community cross the Iraqi-Syrian border along the Fishkhabur bridge over the Tigris River at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014.
National Journal
Matt Berman
Aug. 11, 2014, 1:26 p.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama gave sup­port to a bur­geon­ing new gov­ern­ment in Ir­aq in a brief Monday af­ter­noon press state­ment from Martha’s Vine­yard in Mas­sachu­setts.

“We’ve stepped up mil­it­ary ad­vice and as­sist­ance to Ir­aqi and Kur­d­ish forces as they wage the fight against ISIL,” Obama said. The pres­id­ent also said that hu­man­it­ari­an mis­sions, in con­juc­tion with the United King­dom, France, and oth­er coun­tries, con­tin­ue daily to give aid to thou­sands of Yazid­is, one of Ir­aq’s old­est re­li­gious minor­it­ies, who have taken refuge on a moun­tain in north­w­est Ir­aq.

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Obama re­peated earli­er re­marks about the U.S. role in the situ­ation. “There is no Amer­ic­an mil­it­ary solu­tion to the lar­ger crisis in Ir­aq,” he said. “The only last­ing solu­tion is for Ir­aqis to come to­geth­er and form an in­clus­ive gov­ern­ment.”

Ir­aq’s polit­ic­al sys­tem teetered to­ward crisis Monday as the coun­try’s pres­id­ent, Fuad Masum, nom­in­ated Haid­er al-Abadi, a former ex­ile and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, to re­place Nuri Kamal al-Ma­liki as prime min­is­ter. Ma­liki has giv­en no in­dic­a­tion that he in­tends to give up his power. On Sunday, he re­portedly de­ployed spe­cial forces and tanks loy­al to him to gov­ern­ment build­ings and else­where in Bagh­dad.

“I urge all Ir­aqi polit­ic­al lead­ers to work peace­fully through the polit­ic­al pro­cess in the days ahead,” Obama said Monday.

Abadi comes from Ma­liki’s Dawa Party, and, like Ma­liki, is a Shiite. Abadi now has 30 days, un­der Ir­aq’s con­sti­tu­tion, to form an in­clus­ive gov­ern­ment. On Monday, Obama said that he has pledged his sup­port to Abadi and has urged him to “form a new cab­in­et as quickly as pos­sible, one in­clus­ive of all Ir­aqis and that rep­res­ents all Ir­aqis.”

Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden spoke with Masum by phone Monday morn­ing and said Masum has the U.S.’s “full sup­port for his role as guar­ant­or of the Ir­aqi Con­sti­tu­tion.” Biden also spoke with Abadi, con­grat­u­lat­ing him on his nom­in­a­tion and re­stat­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sup­port of “a new and in­clus­ive Ir­aqi gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly in its fight against ISIL,” ac­cord­ing to a White House readout. Obama said that he joined the vice pres­id­ent’s call to Abadi.

Over the week­end, the U.S. con­duc­ted mul­tiple air­strikes against IS­IS tar­gets in Ir­aq. On Sat­urday, Navy jets and drones ran four strikes, tak­ing out sev­er­al vehicles that were re­portedly seen fir­ing on Yazidi ci­vil­ians. Five more strikes came Sunday near the city Er­bil, again on mul­tiple vehicles, as well as on an IS­IS mor­tar po­s­i­tion. On Monday, Obama called these op­er­a­tions “suc­cess­ful” in block­ing IS­IS forces from mov­ing in on Er­bil. The group has at vari­ous times called it­self the Is­lam­ic State of Ir­aq and Syr­ia and the Is­lam­ic State of Ir­aq and the Le­vant. 

At a Sat­urday news con­fer­ence, Obama ac­know­ledged that U.S. op­er­a­tions in Ir­aq aren’t go­ing to be over any­time soon. “This is go­ing to be a long-term pro­ject,” he said.

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