President Barack Obama says he needs several days to
determine how the United States will help Iraq deal with a
militant insurgency, but has ruled out sending U.S. troops back
into combat and added any intervention would be contingent on
Iraqi leaders becoming more involved.
Obama did not describe the "range of options" he is
considering to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and the
Levant, or ISIL, a group he described as "vicious" and a
"terrorist organization" that could eventually pose a threat
He said Iraqi leaders needed to set aside sectarian
differences to deal with the threat, and said the United
States would engage in "intensive diplomacy" in the region to
try to prevent the situation from worsening.
"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 are prepared to
work together," Obama told reporters at the White House.
He said he was concerned that ISIL could try to overrun
Shi'ite sacred sites, creating sectarian conflicts "that
could be very hard to stamp out." The rebels are Sunni
Muslims and the Baghdad government of Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki is dominated by Shi'ites.
"This is a regional problem, and it is going to be a
long-term problem. And what we're going to have to do is
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," Obama said.
Obama said he wanted to review intelligence on the situation
in Iraq so that any U.S. actions are "targeted, they are
precise, and they are going to have an effect."
He also said he would consult with the U.S. Congress, where
Republicans have been critical of Obama for failing to
negotiate a deal with Iraq under which the United States
would have left a small force there after pulling out troops
at the end of 2011.
Obama's fellow Democrats are reluctant to see military
intervention after the lengthy war, which began with the 2003
U.S.-led invasion to topple President Saddam Hussein.
"Look, the United States has poured a lot of money into these
Iraqi security forces," Obama told reporters before leaving
on a previously scheduled trip to North Dakota. He was
scheduled to spend the weekend in California.
Obama was expected to talk to foreign leaders about the
situation over the weekend, White House spokesman Josh
Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama on Air Force One.
Earnest said the Obama administration had not yet discussed
potential interventions with Iran, Iraq's neighbor to the
east and a backer of Maliki.
Obama said the insurgency so far had not caused major
disruptions to oil supplies from Iraq, but that if insurgents
took control of refineries, other oil producers in the Middle
East would need to help "pick up the slack."
"That will be part of the consultations that will be taking
place during the course of this week," Obama said.