WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Thursday that Iraq will need more help from the United States as it seeks to push back a violent Islamic insurgency that has captured two key cities and threatens to press toward Bagdad.
Obama did not specify what type of assistance the U.S. would be willing to provide but said he had not ruled out any options.
“We do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter,” Obama said during an Oval Office meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Senior administration officials said the U.S. was considering whether to conduct drone missions in Iraq but was not looking to put American forces on the ground. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter by name and requested anonymity.
Iraq has been beset by resurgent violence since the last American troops withdrew in late 2011 after more than eight years of war. The violence escalated this week with an al-Qaida-inspired group capturing two key Sunni-dominated cities this week and talking of a march on Baghdad.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders have pleaded with the Obama administration for more than a year for additional help to combat the growing insurgency, which has been fueled by the unrelenting civil war in neighboring Syria. Northern Iraq has become a way station for insurgents who routinely travel between the two countries and are seeding the Syrian war’s violence in Iraq and beyond.
House Speaker John Boehner said Obama’s policies in Iraq were jeopardizing the progress the United States made in years of fighting. He noted that terrorists have been capturing territory, including the cities of Mosul and Tikrit, the home of the late dictator Saddam Hussein.
“They’re 100 miles from Baghdad,” Boehner said. “And what’s the president doing? Taking a nap.”
The president said he was watching the situation in with concern and his team was working around the clock to identify the most effective assistance. He said that while short-term military solutions were required to tamp down the growing insurgency, Iraq also needed to make longer-term political changes.
If Obama orders U.S. military strikes or involves American forces, he would face opposition in the House. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, asked, “Where are they going to get the funds?”
“To just go in and burn up more resources on a place that seems bent on destruction,” McKeon told reporters. “We had an opportunity there. They had an opportunity there. We blew it. They blew it. I don’t think we’re ready to go in another one.”
Earlier Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner, in remarks to reporters, said Obama is “taking a nap” as terrorists move toward the capital of Baghdad.
The Ohio Republican said Obama should provide equipment and technical assistance to the beleaguered Iraqi government.