President Barack Obama reiterated Friday that the Iraqi government needs support to address escalating violence in the country but stressed that he will not send U.S. troops back into combat.
In remarks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, Obama noted that he has asked his national security team to prepare a range of other options to help Iraq's security forces.
"I do want to be clear though, this is not solely or even primarily a military challenge," Obama said. "Over the past decade, American troops have made extraordinary sacrifices to give Iraqis an opportunity to claim their own future."
He added, "Unfortunately, Iraq's leaders have been unable to overcome, too often, the mistrust and sectarian differences that have long been simmering there, and that's created vulnerabilities within the Iraqi government as well as their security forces."
Subsequently, Obama said any assistance the U.S. provides to Iraqi security forces has to be accompanied by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq's leaders to set aside sectarian differences, promote stability and account for the legitimate interests of all of Iraq's communities.
The president suggested that Iraqi security forces' unwillingness to stand and fight against the advancing militants indicates that there are problems with morale and commitment that stem from the political problems that have plagued the country.
"We can't do it for them," Obama said. "And in the absence of this type of political effort, short-term military action, including any assistance we might provide, won't succeed."
He added, "So this should be a wake-up call. 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. In that effort, they will have the support of the United States and our friends and our allies."
The president argued that Iraq's neighbors also have responsibilities to support the process and noted that the U.S. will continue its efforts to help build more capable counterterrorism forces across the region.
Obama's remarks echo those by his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who cautioned against providing U.S. military assistance to Iraq.
In an interview with BBC Newsnight on Thursday, Clinton suggested that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should have to show his government is becoming more inclusive before the U.S. provides aid.
"There needs to be a number of steps that Maliki and his government must take to demonstrate that he's committed to an inclusive Iraq—something he has not done up to date," Clinton said.
She added, "Maliki has to be willing to demonstrate unequivocally that he is a leader for all Iraqis, not for a sectarian slice of the country."
Iraqi soldiers have reportedly fled from the advancing militants in Western and Northern Iraq despite significantly outnumbering their attackers.
Critics have suggested that Maliki's decision to pack the Iraqi military with Shia loyalists has made the commanders unwilling to fight for the Sunni territories.
"The army, which has not been able to hold territory, has to have an injection of discipline and professionalism, something the U.S. has been trying to help with," Clinton said.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have used the deteriorating situation in Iraq to step up their attacks on Obama's foreign policy.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., released a joint statement on Thursday suggesting that Obama's entire national security team should resign over the developments in Iraq.
"The areas spanning eastern Syria and western Iraq are now the largest Al-Qaeda safe haven in history," McCain and Graham said. "The lesson of 9/11 is that we cannot concede massive ungoverned spaces to the world's most dangerous terrorist organizations."
They added, "We therefore call on the President to explain to the American people and the Congress what actions he will take to address the growing threat to U.S. national security interests, and increasingly to our homeland as well, that Syria and Iraq have become."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, also had some particularly harsh words for Obama, claiming that the president's lack of engagement with Iraq has jeopardized the progress made there.
"It's not like we haven't seen this problem coming for over a year and it's not like we haven't seen, over the last five or six months, these terrorists moving in, taking control of western Iraq," Boehner said.
He added, "Now they've taken control of Mosul, they're 100 miles from Baghdad, and what's the president doing? Taking a nap."
by RTT Staff Writer
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