Obama doesn't rule out air strikes in Iraq

Obama doesn't rule out air strikes in Iraq

Obama doesnt rule out air strikes in Iraq

US President Barack Obama carries an umbrella as he steps off Air Force One on June 11, 2014 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Obama returned to Washington after visiting Worcester and Weston in Massachusetts. He is returning to the White House from Andrews Air Force Base by motorcade due to inclement weather. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN

Washington vowed June 12 to boost aid to Iraq and is mulling drone strikes amid fears Iraqi forces are crumbling in face of militants increasingly emboldened since the U.S. withdrawal.

President Barack Obama announced that the United States is "looking at all the options" on Iraq. "I don't rule anything out," Obama said when asked whether the United States is considering drone strikes or any other action to stop the insurgency, while speaking to reporters at the White House as he met Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

He said there will be short-term immediate actions that need to be done militarily in Iraq, and that his national security team is looking at all options. He said the U.S. is prepared to take military action when its national security interests are threatened. 

The United States is not contemplating sending ground troops to Iraq to help quell an insurgency there, White House spokesman Jay Carney said. He said Obama was referring to not ruling out air strikes.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, called for the "safe and immediate" return of 49 Turkish citizens kidnapped from the consulate in Mosul.

During a call with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Biden said "the United States is prepared to support Turkey's efforts to bring about the safe return of its citizens." 

Iraqi officials have already privately asked the U.S. to consider sending in drones to root out jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who in a lightning offensive have seized a swathe of the north.

The request has been turned down in the past, but Washington is now weighing several possibilities for more military assistance to Baghdad, including drone strikes, a U.S. official told AFP on condition of anonymity. Resorting to such aircraft - which remain highly controversial in Afghanistan and Pakistan - would mark a dramatic shift in the U.S. engagement in Iraq, after the last American troops pulled out inlate 2011.

"The United States has been fast to provide necessary support for the people and government of Iraq," National Security Advisor Susan Rice told a Washington think-tank June 11. "We are working together to roll back aggression and counter the threat" posed by ISIL to Iraq and the region, Rice said.

But she insisted the U.S. "must do more to strengthen our partners' capacity to defeat the terrorist threat on their home turf by providing them the necessary training, equipment and support." State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki stressed there were no current plans to send U.S. troops back to Iraq, where around 4,500 Americans died in the eight-year conflict.

She also denied the offensive, in which the militants seized northern Mosul and then Tikrit, had caught Washington by surprise or marked a failure of U.S. policy in the country it invaded in 2003.

U.S. officials also said they would try, working with the international community, to help an estimated 500,000 people who have fled their homes in Mosul.

Taking a 'nap'

Meanwhile, the top congressional Republican laid into President Obama June 12, accusing him of taking a "nap" on Iraq, while a lawmaker called for US air strikes to repel Islamist rebels advancing on Baghdad.

With jihadists capturing several large Iraqi cities, forcing hundreds of thousands of residents to flee, and threatening Baghdad, hawkish Senator John McCain called for "drastic measures" to reverse the tide and said Obama should sack his national security team for failed policies in the Middle East.

"Get a new national security team in place. You have been ill-served," he told Obama in a speech on the Senate floor.

House Speaker John Boehner angrily snapped that the Obama administration has seen the pressure on Iraq’s government building for over a year but did little to help authorities there counter the insurgents.

"Now they’ve taken control of Mosul, they’re 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Baghdad," Boehner told reporters. 

"And what’s the president doing? Taking a nap."

Senate Republican Lindsey Graham, who often joins McCain in his condemnation of Obama foreign policy, bluntly warned that a jihadist takeover in Iraq and neighboring Syria would create a "hell on earth."

And while US boots on the ground is not an option at present, "I think American airpower is the only hope to change the battlefield equation in Iraq," Graham said.

"The Iraqi army is in shambles, and without some kind of intervention, Baghdad is definitely in jeopardy."

McCain and Graham urged Obama to sit down with his generals and consult with retired personnel who oversaw Iraqi operations, including former CIA chief General David Petraeus, to map out a change of course.

"I have never been more worried about another 9/11 than I am right now," Graham warned.

He also said Obama erred in not leaving residual forces once the last US troops pulled out in 2011.

"Ten or 15,000 strategically placed US soldiers would have held this together," Graham said.

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton came to the president’s defense Thursday, saying the deadline on US troops leaving Iraq "was set by the prior administration."

She also pointed to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s failure to approve a status of forces agreement with Washington under which US troops could remain in country.

"So the decision was made, in effect. There could not be American troops left without such an agreement," Clinton said at the Council of Foreign Relations.

ISIL calls for 'marching' to Baghdad
ISIL's spokesman called on the militants to march to Baghdad, slamming Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for being incompetent.

Amid reports that the Iraqi army had simply fled Mosul in face of the offensive, security expert Bruce Riedel told AFP "there's plenty of room for finger-pointing for the debacle in Iraq."

"Let's not forget the disastrous decision to start the war in 2003 as the place to begin finger-pointing," the senior fellow at the Brookings Institution said. The Pentagon needed to make a fundamental assessment of the difficulties facing the Iraqi military, he said.

"If it's a problem that the Iraqi military is broken at its core, then there's no point in sending more Humvees and Apaches," Riedel added.

"It's a point of how do we minimize our losses and live with what might be rapidly be developing as a de-facto partition of Iraq between a Sunni extremist state and a Shiite state."  

Baghdad urges the U.N. Security Council

Iraq's ambassador to France called on the U.N. Security Council to approve extra military aid for Baghdad, including air and drone support, when it meets in New York later on June 12.

"We need equipment, extra aviation and drones," Fareed Yasseen said when asked on France Inter radio what Iraq wanted from the Council.

"It must support Iraq because what is happening is not just a threat for Iraq but the entire region."