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Obama: No Troops to Iraq, But Other Help Being Weighed

Obama: No Troops to Iraq, But Other Help Being Weighed

By Alexis Simendinger - June 13, 2014

President Obama said Friday the United States will not send combat troops to help the Iraq government battle militants massing near Baghdad, but will provide military assistance after weighing options over “the course of this week.”

As chaos gripped Iraq and the president’s national security advisers deliberated, Obama sounded at once frustrated and wary of new U.S. commitments.

“This is a regional problem and it is going to be a long-term problem,” the president said. “We're going to have to combine selective actions by our military to make sure that we're going after terrorists who could harm our personnel overseas or eventually hit the homeland … with what is a very challenging international effort to try to rebuild countries and communities that have been shattered by sectarian war. And that's not an easy task.”

American combat forces left Iraq in 2011 after the United States, under the guise of thwarting terrorism, invested billions of dollars to topple Saddam Hussein and “stand up” a new government, at a cost of nearly 4,500 American lives.

Pledging to end the war in Iraq helped propel Obama to the White House, but the U.S. withdrawal and the government of Nouri al-Maliki have haunted the Oval Office, presenting yet another fresh set of challenges. Iraq’s slide into turmoil mixes terrorism with civil unrest, becoming tangled with Syria’s bloody civil war.

The president’s remarks in front of Marine One as he departed for events in North Dakota and California added little new information to comments he made in the Oval Office Thursday. He said any decisions he makes are unlikely to be announced over the weekend, despite appeals from the Iraqi government for international assistance and U.S. air strikes, training and intelligence.

The president and Michelle Obama are scheduled to return to Washington Monday after a weekend in California.

Jihadists associated with al-Qaeda, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, this week captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. As fighters advanced toward Baghdad, they reportedly stole $425 million from Mosul’s central bank, along with U.S.-made munitions and military equipment.

The administration began evacuating U.S. personnel from Iraq this week, as the administration hastened diplomatic consultations with allies and consultations with members of Congress.

Obama acknowledged the threat posed by the ISIS militants, but offered withering criticism of the Iraqi military for “the fact that they are not willing to stand and fight and defend their posts against admittedly hardened terrorists.” Implicitly, the president blamed the Maliki government for “a problem in morale” and a lack of commitment within its security forces, spawned by Maliki’s sectarian exclusions of Sunnis.

“We will not be sending troops back into combat in Iraq,” Obama said, noting that while the situation there “could pose a threat to American interests eventually,” the underlying causes of the security threats have been known and understood by the Maliki government for some time. 

With his voice rising, Obama repeated the United States may yet answer the call from Baghdad for emergency assistance, but cannot force the Iraqi Army to function, and cannot settle sectarian resentments long blamed on Iraq’s political decision makers. “We can't do it for them,” he said.

“I want to make sure that everybody understands this message: The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they're prepared to work together,” Obama said.

“We're not going to allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation in which while we're there we're keeping a lid on things and, after enormous sacrifices by us, as soon as we're not there, suddenly people end up acting in ways that are not conductive to the long-term stability and prosperity of the country,” he added.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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