President Barack Obama said Friday that the United States is not planning to put boots on the ground in Iraq, where Islamic extremists backed by Sunni tribal leaders are violently seizing territory from the country’s fledgling government. Obama said the U.S. “will do our part” to help but won’t “allow ourselves to be dragged back into” war.
“Ultimately it’s up to the Iraqis, as a sovereign nation, to solve their problems,” the President said during a brief press conference on the White House’s South Lawn.
Obama said that the White House is currently considering what options the U.S. has in aiding Iraq beat back the threat of brutal terrorists fighting under flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Iraq is currently splitting apart in a way that will make it nearly impossible for the country’s government to regain control without help.
The terrorists already control significant swaths of territory throughout Iraq and parts of Syria. ISIS captured the city of Mosul on Monday with little response from the Iraqi army. And what was once a 900,000 strong army of Iraqi soldiers working maintain government control of the Sunni Arab regions in northern and central Iraq is quickly vanishing.
Meanwhile, the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk is currently under Kurdish control. A spokesman for the Kurdish forces said, “No Iraqi army remains in Kirkuk.”
On Friday, ISIS forces began marching toward Baghdad, which they have vowed to capture along with Shia holy cities to the south.
The ISIS advances threaten 9-years of Shia dominance in the region that was spurred by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein during the Iraq War. Even if the Shia leaders in Baghdad are able to protect the capitol city and other Shia provinces to the left, regaining control of the Sunni provinces that Iraqi forces have abandoned will not likely be an easy task.
Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has urged Iraqis to fight the Sunni insurgents.
“People who are capable of carrying arms and fighting the terrorists in defense of their country … should volunteer to join the security forces to achieve this sacred goal,” he said in a statement.
While Iran’s Foreign Ministry has denied any involvement in Iraq, a top security official in Baghdad told CNN that the nation has sent at least 500 Revolutionary Guard units to aid Iraqi forces in the Diyala province. The Guardian also reported Friday that Iran was scrambling to help the Iraqi government to protect its own interests in the region by sending a top general to Bagdad to help organize Iraqi militia leaders and tribal chiefs to fight off ISIS.
According to reports, U.S. action against the ISIS threat will likely involve airstrikes on militant-controlled regions in Iraq and Syria, creating the possibility that the U.S. will be providing cover fire for its longtime Iranian adversaries. But, lingering tensions aside, leaders from both nations realize the terrifying threat of a fragmented Iraq heavily under ISIS control.