President Barack Obama said he would not rule out military intervention to support Iraq's government against advancing Sunni militants, two and a half years after the U.S. withdrew its last troops from the country.
“I don't rule out anything,” Obama told reporters at the White House after meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott after being asked a question about the possibility the U.S. would conduct airstrikes in Iraq to support the government there. "We do have a stake in making sure these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria,” Obama added.
Obama said that is was "fair to say that in our consultations with the Iraqis there will be some short-term immediate things that need to be done militarily and our national security team is looking into all the options." However, a senior administration official said Obama is not considering putting U.S. boots on the ground once again in Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has expressed a willingness to allow the U.S. to conduct airstrikes on the extremists, who have over the past week seized Iraq’s second largest city, the country’s largest oil refinery and the city of Tikrit, the home of former leader Saddam Hussein. Fighting between Iraqi forces and advancing fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other Islamic fundamentalist groups, who spilled over from neighboring war-torn Syria, has already displaced more than 500,000 Iraqis.
"This should also be a wakeup call for the Iraqi government," Obama said. "There has to be a political component to this so that Sunni and Shia who care about building a functioning state that can bring about security and prosperity to all people inside of Iraq come together and work diligently against the extremists."
The U.S. has provided Baghdad with $15 billion worth of equipment and training after spending $1.7 trillion and nearly 4,500 lives in almost nine years of war.
"Over the last year we have been providing them with additional assistance to try to address the problems that they have in Anbar, the northwest portions of the country, as well as the Iraqi and Syrian border,” Obama said. “What we’ve seen over the last couple of days indicates the degree to which Iraq’s going to need more help. It’s going to need more help from us, and it’s going to need more help from the international community."