Obama to send military advisors to Iraq while urging political leaders to prevent their country’s collapse
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GWEN IFILL: President Obama announced today that he will be sending up to 300 military advisers to support Iraqi forces in their fight against the Sunni militant group ISIL. But he pushed again for the country’s leaders to come up with their own political solution.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We do not have the ability to simply solve this problem by sending in tens of thousands of troops and committing the kinds of blood and treasure that has already been expended in Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: President Obama announced he would instead dispatch Secretary of State John Kerry to the region this weekend. He also pledged to increase support for Iraqi security forces through intelligence-sharing and coordination. The U.S., he said, wouldn’t rule out targeted strikes against insurgents if events on the ground demand it.
But the president said repeatedly that it is the Iraqis themselves who will ultimately be responsible for stabilizing what he described as a dire situation.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Regardless of what’s happened in the past, right now is a moment where the fate of Iraq hangs in the balance.
And the test for all of them is going to be where they can overcome the mistrust, the deep sectarian divisions, in some cases just political opportunism and say, this is bigger than any one of us, and we’ve got to make sure that we — we do what’s right for the Iraqi people. And — and that’s a challenge. That’s not something that the United States can do for them.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Obama also said he would be open to working with Iran, so long as they send the same unifying message to the Shia-run government.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If Iran is coming in solely as an armed force on behalf of the Shia and it — if it is framed in that fashion, then that probably worsens the situation and the prospect for a government formation that would actually be constructive over the long term.
GWEN IFILL: Left unaddressed, the future of Nouri al-Maliki, who is faulted in some quarters for fanning the sectarian divisions now roiling the country.
Maliki’s political movement won the most seats in April’s election, and the president suggested today Iraqis would have to sort out internal politics on their own.
But The New York Times reported today that U.S. officials have already signaled to opposition leaders in Baghdad that Maliki step down, something many Sunni leaders have already demanded.
SHEIK ALI HATEM AL-SALMAN, Sunni Tribal Leader, Anbar Province (through interpreter): We think al-Maliki has completely lost his balance. We advise him to leave government, because I can’t imagine that, with al-Maliki remaining, the Iraqi crisis will be solved.
GWEN IFILL: Maliki, a Shiite, joined with other Iraqi leaders calling for unity earlier this week.
Meanwhile, battles raged on across the country, as government soldiers and helicopters faced off against Sunni extremists at the sprawling Baiji refinery north of Baghdad. An Iraqi witness told the Associated Press that black ISIL banners now hang on facility towers and militants man checkpoints. But officials insisted government forces maintain control of what is the country’s largest oil refinery.
The Iraqi Defense Ministry also released video of targeted Iraqi airstrikes near the city of Tal Afar. A military spokesman claimed the bombings killed 50 militants. Elsewhere, Iraqi emergency police patrolled streets and checkpoints throughout the northern city of Kirkuk. Kurdish peshmerga forces had held the ethnically diverse and oil-rich city since Iraqi military forces retreated last week.
MAN (through interpreter): Security forces and peshmerga forces have control over Kirkuk, and the situation is very good.
GWEN IFILL: Still, the exodus from ISIL-controlled regions continues. A hundred miles southeast of Kirkuk, families packed into pickup trucks and minibuses to flee towns now in the grip of the Sunni militant forces.
While on television, the government’s public relations battle waged on. State-run Iraqiya TV today broadcast patriotic footage and music, including messages that read, “All of us are ready to lay ourselves down for Iraq” and “Our safety is with your help.”
In Baghdad, hundreds of Shiite volunteers eager to join the fight lined up at recruitment centers.
HASSAN ABDULLAH, Volunteer (through interpreter): I have volunteered to join the Iraqi army to crush the heads of the ISIL fighters and those who have allied with them.
GWEN IFILL: Officials said, in the past week alone, over two million Iraqis have volunteered to take up arms against the insurgency, raising fears that the violence gripping the country could deteriorate even further.