President Obama said he would not put U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq, but left the door open for other forms of military action in response to the growing sectarian violence in the country.
“We will not be sending troops back into combat in Iraq,” Obama said at a White House press conference. “But I have asked my security advisers to prepare a range of other options.”
The gains made by ISIS, a group of Sunni militants with ties to the Syrian insurgency, threaten not only Iraq and its people, Obama added. “Given the nature of these terrorists, it poses a threat eventually to American interests as well.”
But the president was at pains to stress that any U.S. involvement would only come as part of a process in which Iraq’s rival factions commit to a solution.
“Any action that we may take to assist Iraqi security forces has to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraqis to set aside sectarian differences,” Obama said. “We can’t do it for them.”
Since the Sunni insurgency erupted this week, Republicans have argued that the violence shows the folly of Obama’s 2011 decision to withdraw troops from Iraq.
“Everybody in his national security team, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ought to be replaced,” Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said Thursday. “It’s a colossal failure of American security policy.”
In Iraq Friday, an influential Shi’ite cleric issued a call to arms, urging all able-bodied men to defend the government against the Sunni militants. Government security forces have often melted away rather than confronting the insurgents.
Obama said no one should expect immediate action.
“Our ability to plan military action or work with the Iraqi government on some of these issues is going to take several days,” Obama said. “So people should anticipate that this is something that’s going to happen overnight.”
Obama said he wanted to avoid a situation in which he ordered U.S. military action, only to see violence flare again as soon as the U.S. had withdrawn.