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Middle East

Iraq crisis: President Obama says US will not send in troops but will 'play its part'

Obama reassured Americans at home that deploying ground troops in Iraq is not something he is willing to consider

The United States will “play its part” in defending the integrity of Iraq against the jihadist insurgency that has taken control of cities in its west and north, Barack Obama said today, but he made clear that the government of Nouri al-Maliki must take steps first to overcome sectarian political divisions in the country.

Addressing the fast developing events on the ground in Iraq, Mr Obama reassured Americans at home that deploying ground troops in Iraq is not something he is willing to consider.

But he clearly indicated that plans are being drawn up to give support to the Iraqi military. That would most likely be aerial support and there were reports of the Pentagon preparing to order the George HW Bush aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf this weekend.

Mr Obama, who came to the presidency in part on a pledge to end US involvement in Iraq, said he was not yet at the point of making any decisions and instead would be waiting for evidence of Mr al-Maliki, a Shia who has shut out Sunni leaders from the Iraqi government, taking steps towards political reconciliation.

“The United States is simply not 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 willing to work together,” Mr Obama said in response to questions after delivering a brief statement on the South Lawn of the White House.

“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, after we're not there, people start acting in ways that are not conducive to the long-term stability” of Iraq.


The timeline for possible military action seemingly therefore will be determined at least in part by Mr al-Maliki’s response and not just events on the ground. “People shouldn’t anticipate that this is something that is going to happen overnight,” Mr Obama said. “We want to make sure we have gathered all the intelligence that is necessary so that if in fact I do direct and order any actions there that they are targeted, they're precise and they're going to have an effect”.

His unwillingness to rush to a decision comes in spite of heavy pressure from some on Capitol Hill. 

Senator John McCain of Arizona today repeated his case that Mr Obama and the administration brought the crisis on themselves by agreeing to pull out all US troops back in 2011. “President [Obama] wanted out, and now, we are paying a very heavy price,” Mr McCain said. 

Mr Obama underscored the complexity of the crisis, not least the reality that the marauding Sunni fighters have been part emanated from neighbouring Syria. “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,” he said.


In London, John Kerry, the Secretary of State, took time to explain why the US might intervene in Iraq when it hasn’t in Syria.  “Iraq is a country we’ve had a very direct relationship with, very direct investment and engagement with, not to mention the lives of our soldiers who were lost there, providing this opportunity to them,” he remarked at the end of a conference on combating sexual violence in conflict zones.

“I don't think anybody in the region, or in this administration, believes it is in the interest of the United States to turn our backs on that.”