With an insurgent group in control of large swaths of Iraq and quickly gaining ground, President Obama announced Friday that the U.S. could intervene militarily to help stabilize security but ultimately the country would need to solve its own problems.
While Obama said he is still weighing his options, which could include sending military advisers and even U.S.-led airstrikes but no boots on the ground, he said the U.S. cannot ultimately solve the problem for the Iraqis.
"The United States will do our part but ultimately it's up to Iraqi's as a sovereign nation to handle their problems," he said.
Any U.S. military military action would not come for a number of days, Obama said, and would not come at all if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki doesn't commit to making major political reforms involving bringing the Sunnis back into the government, limiting his own powers, and revamping the Iraqi military.
Al-Maliki refused to sign a Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S. to maintain a residual level of U.S. troops in the country after 2011. After the U.S. left, he quickly moved to consolidate Shiite power and marginalize Sunni political and military leaders.
"This should be a wake-up call" for Iraqi leaders, Obama said, adding that they need to make serious compromises in order to bring it's people together.
"The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action absent a political plan that gives us some assurance that their going to work together," he said.
Minutes before Obama made the remarks, CNN reported that the Pentagon was planning to move an aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush, into the Persian Gulf, to be poised to launch airstrikes if the president gave the go-ahead.
Obama campaigned to end the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and curb other military entanglements overseas, and a decision to re-engage the U.S. military there would be a major shift in the president's policy toward Baghdad.
Sending U.S. military help to Iraq, Obama said, is in America's interest because an al Qaeda-aligned terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, seized two major cities this week and is threatening Baghdad.
“This poses a danger to Iraq and its people and, given the nature of these terrorists, it could pose a danger eventually to American interests as well,” he said. “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.”
Obama cautioned that any action would not take place “overnight” because U.S. authorities want to “make sure we have good eyes on the situation there.”
“We want to make sure we’ve gathered all the intelligence that is necessary so that if I do order action” it will be precise and “have an effect.”
In the long-term, he said, any targeted U.S. military actions in Iraq need to be coupled with assistance from other countries in the region help rebuild communities “shattered by sectarian war.”
Shiite-controlled Iran on Thursday sent a contingent of its elite Revolutionary Guard across the border to help its besieged neighbor, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Oil prices rose Thursday and Friday as chaos mounted in Iraq, but Obama said there have been no major disruptions in oil supplies yet but the U.S. is monitoring the situation closely.
“If in fact [ISIS] was able to obtain control over major output, significant refineries, that could be a source of concern,” he said. “As you might expect, world oil markets react to any kind of instability in the Middle East.”
The U.S. is working with other countries in the region so other oil producers in the Gulf region may step in to “pick up the slack” if disruptions to Iraq's oil production takes place.