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What are the U.S.’s options in Iraq?

BY Larisa Epatko  June 13, 2014 at 3:08 PM EDT
Iraqi policemen and soldiers in the city of Ramadi, west of the capital Baghdad. Photo by Azher Shallal/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi policemen and soldiers in the city of Ramadi, west of the capital Baghdad. Photo by Azher Shallal/AFP/Getty Images

After taking over Iraq’s second largest city Mosul, the Sunni militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant set its sights on Baghdad, launching a debate over what the United States should do — if anything — to help.

President Obama said Friday that the U.S. will not send troops for combat purposes, and that he will weigh different options from his national security team over the next few days.

He said Iraqi leaders have been unable to overcome the sectarian differences in the country, so any action the U.S. takes must be accompanied by changes in the Iraqi government that ensure people can participate in politics without resorting to war. Also, Iraq needs to build up its security force, he said. “We can’t do it for them.”

We’re asking analysts and social media users for their takes, and we’ll post some of their feedback here. Weigh in with your own opinions in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

Ret. Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who helped with strategic planning in the Iraq war and is now an associate professor in the History Department at Ohio State University, said as a condition to any U.S. military support, Iraq should undertake political reform and create a new unity government that all Iraqis can support. The Iraqi security forces won’t fight for an individual, like President Nouri al-Maliki; they need to feel like they’re fighting for a national state, he said.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey, who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said on Thursday’s NewsHour that the United States needs to contribute air power, which would give the Iraqi troops encouragement. “Without American firepower on the ground, city after city is going to fall.”

But Feisal Istrabadi, Iraq’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations and now a professor of the practice of international law and diplomacy at Indiana University, Bloomington, said that air power won’t make the difference that political deals between Sunnis and Shiites would. “Without these political deals, there is, in my opinion, no military solution to the problem.”


We also asked on Facebook: Does the U.S. bear responsibility to help maintain peace in Iraq?

Here are some of the responses we got:

Chris Collins: Er, yes. We knew this consequence was coming. There is no way to fix this, since even the new Iraqi government, with foreign-support, can not consolidate resources and provide enough stable power to ever survive the cultural infighting that our invasion allowed.

Kit Lane: I can’t stomach the idea of any more American lives being lost there. Or, any more scarce American dollars being spent. It is now time for the Iraqis to take charge of their country. Enough already.

Amaya Acton: if we help them in any way. …help them by staying away.

Brian Halton: This is a sectarian war that we have no place or say in. We shouldn’t have been there in the first place. We need to stay out. Let’s worry about our own issues first. Which there are many.

Barbara Hawley: Really? They need to deal with the consequences to their own bad policy decisions. Why should we bail them out again. They were happy we left, and they hate Americans. We don’t need their oil.

Daryl Lamkey: Assist? Maybe. Boots on the ground? Definitely not! That’s what precipitated the current situation.

Elizabeth Sha: Well pretty hard to leave with a civil war between three factions escalating. This is a long standing feud. Just how was the U.S. supposed to change this? How can they change it now? Never should have gone in there. Or try peace talks where all 3 factions included. Without fairness it will never end.

JayTami Klassen: If we would just leave all these countries alone, they’ll collapse under their own weight. Consider China and Russia, who have moved towards democracy… People just don’t want to live in fear and tyranny. It might take time, but secularization will occur.

Aleks Shindig: Getting out of Iraq is just as messy as getting in was. The only difference is that we didn’t have to go in.

Stephanie Ruff: Conflicted on this. Obama needs to do whatever he has to keep America and her people safe.


We’ll have more on possible U.S. actions in Iraq on Friday’s PBS NewsHour. Colleen Shalby contributed to the reporting.