News / USA

Statement by the President on Iraq

South Lawn

12:00 P.M. EDT

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  I wanted to take some time to give you a quick update about the situation in Iraq. 
 

Yesterday, I convened a meeting with my National Security Council to discuss the situation there, and this morning I received an update from my team.  Over the last several days, we’ve seen significant gains made by ISIL, a terrorist organization that operates in both Iraq and in Syria.  In the face of a terrorist offensive, Iraqi security forces have proven unable to defend a number of cities, which has allowed the terrorists to overrun a part of Iraq’s territory.  And this poses a danger to Iraq and its people.  And given the nature of these terrorists, it could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well.
 

Now, this threat is not brand new.  Over the last year, we’ve been steadily ramping up our security assistance to the Iraqi government with increased training, equipping and intelligence.  Now, Iraq needs additional support to break the momentum of extremist groups and bolster the capabilities of Iraqi security forces.  We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces, and I’ll be reviewing those options in the days ahead.
 

I do want to be clear though, this is not solely or even primarily a military challenge.  Over the past decade, American troops have made extraordinary sacrifices to give Iraqis an opportunity to claim their own future.  Unfortunately, Iraq’s leaders have been unable to overcome too often the mistrust and sectarian differences that have long been simmering there, and that’s created vulnerabilities within the Iraqi government as well as their security forces.
 

So any action that we may take to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces has to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq’s leaders to set aside sectarian differences, to promote stability, and account for the legitimate interests of all of Iraq’s communities, and to continue to build the capacity of an effective security force.  We can’t do it for them.  And in the absence of this type of political effort, short-term military action, including any assistance we might provide, won’t succeed. 
 

So this should be a wake-up call.  Iraq’s leaders have to demonstrate a willingness to make hard decisions and compromises on behalf of the Iraqi people in order to bring the country together.  In that effort, they will have the support of the United States and our friends and our allies. 
 

Now, Iraq’s neighbors also have some responsibilities to support this process.  Nobody has an interest in seeing terrorists gain a foothold inside of Iraq, and nobody is going to benefit from seeing Iraq descend into chaos.  So the United States will do our part, but understand that ultimately it’s up to the Iraqis, as a sovereign nation, to solve their problems.
 

Indeed, across the region we have redoubled our efforts to help build more capable counterterrorism forces so that groups like ISIL can’t establish a safe haven.  And we’ll continue that effort through our support of the moderate opposition in Syria, our support for Iraq and its security forces, and our partnership with other countries across the region. 
 

We’re also going to pursue intensive diplomacy throughout this period both inside of Iraq and across the region, because there’s never going to be stability in Iraq or the broader region unless there are political outcomes that allow people to resolve their differences peacefully without resorting to war or relying on the United States military. 
 

We’ll be monitoring the situation in Iraq very carefully over the next several days.  Our top priority will remain being vigilant against any threats to our personnel serving overseas.  We will consult closely with Congress as we make determinations about appropriate action, and we’ll continue to keep the American people fully informed as we make decisions about the way forward. 
 

I’ll take a question.
 

Q    Mr. President, given the recent U.S. history there, are you reluctant to get involved again in Iraq?
 

THE PRESIDENT:  I think that we should look at the situation carefully.  We have an interest in making sure that a group like ISIL, which is a vicious organization and has been able to take advantage of the chaos in Syria, that they don't get a broader foothold.  I think there are dangers of fierce sectarian fighting if, for example, these terrorist organizations try to overrun sacred Shia sites, which could trigger Shia-Sunni conflicts that could be very hard to stamp out.  So we have enormous interests there.

And obviously, our troops and the American people and the American taxpayers made huge investments and sacrifices in order to give Iraqis the opportunity to chart a better course, a better destiny.  But ultimately, they're going to have to seize it.  As I said before, we are not going to be able to do it for them.  And given the very difficult history that we’ve seen in Iraq, I think that any objective observer would recognize that in the absence of accommodation among the various factions inside of Iraq, various military actions by the United States, by any outside nation, are not going to solve those problems over the long term and not going to deliver the kind of stability that we need.
 

Anybody else?
 

Q    Mr. President, is the Syrian civil war spilling over the Iraq border?  And what can we do to stop it?
 

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think that's been happening for some time.  ISIL has been able to gain a foothold in Syria.  That's part of the reason why we’ve been so concerned about it.  That's part of the reason why we’ve been supporting the Syrian opposition there.  But it’s a challenging problem.
 

In Iraq, the Iraqi government, which was initially resistant to some of our offers of help, has come around now to recognize that cooperation with us on some of these issues can be useful.  Obviously, that's not the case in Syria where President Assad has no interest in seeing us involved there, and where some of the governments that are supporting Assad have been able to block, for example, U.N. efforts even at humanitarian aid.  But this is a regional problem and it is going to be a long-term problem.
 

And what we’re going to have to do is combine selective actions by our military to make sure that we’re going after terrorists who could harm our personnel overseas or eventually hit the homeland.  We’re going to have to combine that with what is a very challenging international effort to try to rebuild countries and communities that have been shattered by sectarian war.  And that's not an easy task.
 

Q    Mr. President, which foreign countries have you been in touch with?  And what are they willing to do as part of this international effort?
 

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we’re in contact with them now.  So we’ll have a better sense by the end of the weekend, after those consultations.  And we will be getting a better sense from them of how they might support an effort to bring about the kind of political unity inside of Iraq that bolsters security forces.
 

Look, the United States has poured a lot of money into these Iraqi security forces, and we devoted a lot of training to Iraqi security forces.  The fact that they are not willing to stand and fight, and defend their posts against admittedly hardened terrorists but not terrorists who are overwhelming in numbers indicates that there’s a problem with morale, there’s a problem in terms of commitment.  And ultimately, that’s rooted in the political problems that have plagued the country for a very long time.
 

Last question.  Last one.
 

Q    Thank you.  Can you talk a little bit about U.S. concern of disruption of oil supplies?
 

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, so far at least we have not seen major disruptions in oil supplies.  Obviously if, in fact, ISIL was able to obtain control over major output, significant refineries, that could be a source of concern.  As you might expect, world oil markets react to any kind of instability in the Middle East.  One of our goals should be to make sure that in cooperation with other countries in the region not only are we creating some sort of backstop in terms of what’s happening inside of Iraq, but if there do end up being disruptions inside of Iraq, that some of the other producers in the Gulf are able to pick up the slack.  So that will be part of the consultations that will be taking place during the course of this week.
 

Just to give people a sense of timing here, although events on the ground in Iraq have been happening very quickly, our ability to plan, whether it’s military action or work with the Iraqi government on some of these political issues, is going to take several days.  So people should not anticipate that this is something that is going to happen overnight.  We want to make sure that we have good eyes on the situation there.  We want to make sure that we’ve gathered all the intelligence that’s necessary so that if, in fact, I do direct and order any actions there, that they’re targeted, they’re precise and they’re going to have an effect. 
 

And as I indicated before -- and I want to make sure that everybody understands this message -- the United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together.  We’re not going to allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation in which while we’re there we’re keeping a lid on things, and after enormous sacrifices by us, as soon as we’re not there, suddenly people end up acting in ways that are not conducive to the long-term stability and prosperity of the country. 
 

All right, thank you very much, everybody. 
 

END
12:11 P.M. EDT

You May Like

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More