President Obama Thursday said the United States will deploy up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help its beleaguered security forces fend off Sunni militants, edging the US back into a conflict that Obama thought he had left behind.
Obama also said the US was gathering intelligence on the positions of militant fighters to identify targets, and added, “We will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if we conclude the situation on the ground requires it.”
Obama said he still believed that the solution to Iraq’s strife was political, not military. He said he was sending Secretary of State John Kerry to Europe and the Middle East this weekend to build support among Iraq’s Arab neighbors for a multi-sectarian government in Baghdad.
The president emphasized again that he would not send combat troops to Iraq, but he said the US would help the Iraqis “take the fight” to the militants, who he said pose a threat to Iraq’s stability and to American interests, because Iraq could become a sanctuary for terrorists who could strike the United States or its allies.
“It is in our national security interest not to see an all-out civil war in Iraq,” Obama said to reporters.
The president said little about the role of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Shia leader whose policies have fuelled the deepening sectarian tensions with Sunni Arab minority. American officials have privately concluded that Maliki cannot head a national unity government.
“It’s not our job to choose Iraq’s leaders,” Obama said, when asked about Maliki. But, he said “right now, there’s too much suspicion, there’s too much mistrust.”
The president said the additional military advisers would staff two joint operations centres, in Baghdad and outside, in which the US and Iraqi forces would share intelligence and planning.
Obama also said the US would supply Iraqi forces with technology and equipment, drawing on Counterterrorism Partnership Fund he announced in a foreign-policy speech at the US Military Academy in West Point.
The president also suggested that there was a constructive role for Iran, Iraq’s Shia neighbour, to play in the crisis if, he said, “it is sending the same message to the Iraqi government that we are sending”. But he warned that Iran would be a destructive force if it supplied “armed forces on behalf of the Shia”.