President Obama Says New Campaign in Iraq May Take Time

Says Iraqi government could help calm uprising by better embracing minority interests.
30:44 | 08/09/14

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Transcript for President Obama Says New Campaign in Iraq May Take Time
This is an ABC news special report. Crisis in Iraq. And good morning to -- I'm Dan Harris -- -- directing your regular programming because President Obama is about to make a statement. About the situation in Iraq as you know the US has been launching air strikes against fundamentalist rebels who are threatening to. Overtake a major city where many Americans are living and working this is footage that came in overnight. From the warplanes. The spread the president will be speaking from the South Lawn of the White House after which -- board Marine One to take off for two weeks family vacation on Martha's Vineyard. We should say it is going to be -- working vacation of course he'll have members of his national security team with him you can see Marine One. Behind the podium they've set up on the marine on on the on the South Lawn of the White House it -- he gets -- Is that the White House for -- Jeff I suspected the president is gonna come out and try to remind the nation that this is a limited engagement we're in right now. You're actually right in good morning President Obama I'm told by administration officials is going to do just that. Give an update on what's happened that the US is dropping more food and more humanitarian relief. And he's trying to assure people that this is not going to be a long struggle of this is a limited engagement. We saw a preview of what that we're going to hear in a moment in an interview with the New York Times this morning and he says that Iraq -- do. Do this on its own the US will be a willing partner but will not be the Iraqi air force. So the president is going to. Attempt to explain this but you're right he is going on vacation for a couple weeks -- that is what's happening here as well he wants to give an update before he leaves for Martha's Vineyard. ABC's Martha Raddatz joins us on the phone Martha very quickly as we await the president what you're here for your military sources of that how they feel about this the success or failure of the strikes they've carried thus far. Well it certainly districts have been accepted that they they have hit their targets -- -- after accelerated kind of two mortar artillery and more than -- -- they had been shelling. Those Kurdish troops are rampant here deal those were successful I think they think -- it's really we'll. Give applause. Will allow those Kurdish troops to regrouped. Get ready to go -- crisis how long that will last is completely unclear how long the president. Allow the. That brought down the -- -- look at that President -- the American -- audience can -- -- -- have served with courage and -- in the skies over Iraq. First American forces have conducted targeted airstrikes against terrorist forces outside the city -- -- -- To prevent them from advancing on the city and to protect our American diplomats. And military personnel. So far the strikes have successfully destroyed arms and equipment that Beisel terrorist could've used against her be. Meanwhile Kurdish forces on the ground continued defend the city and the United States and the Iraqi Government. Have stepped up our military assistance to Kurdish forces as they wage their fight. Second. Our humanitarian effort continues to help the men women and children stranded on mount syndrome. American forces have so far conducted two successful -- delivered thousands of meals and gallons of water to these desperate men women and children. And American aircraft are positioned to strike Beisel terrorists around the mountain to help forces in Iraq break the siege and rescue. Those were trapped there. Even as we deal with -- -- immediate situations. We will continue to pursue a broader strategy. In Iraq. We will protect our American citizens in Iraq whether they're diplomats. Civilians or military. If these terrorists threaten our facilities or personnel we will take action to protect our people. We will continue to provide -- military assistance and advice to the Iraqi Government and Kurdish forces as they battle these terrorists. So that the terrorists cannot establish a permanent safe it. We will continue to work with the international community to deal with the growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq. It is our attention is focused on preventing an act of genocide and helping the men women and children on the mountain. Countless Iraqis have been driven or fled from their homes including many Christians. This morning I spoke with the prime -- Cameron of the United Kingdom and -- -- of France. I'm pleased that both leaders expressed their strong support for our actions. And have agreed to join us in providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqi civilians were suffering so much. Once again America's proud to act alongside our closest friends and allies. More broadly the United Nations in Iraq is working urgently to help respond to the needs of those Iraqis fleeing from areas under threat. UN Security Council -- called on the international community to do everything it can to provide food water and shelter. And in -- calls with allies and partners around the world continue to urge them to join us in this humanitarian effort. Finally. We continue to call on Iraqis to come together and form -- -- -- government inclusive government. That Iraq needs right now. Vice President Biden has been speaking to Iraqi leaders and our team in Baghdad is in close touch with the Iraqi Government. All Iraqi communities are ultimately threatened by these barbaric terrorists. And all Iraqi communities need to unite to defend their country. This is we are focused on the situation in the north affecting Kurds in the Iraqi minorities. Sunni and -- in different parts of -- have suffered mightily at the hands of vice. Once an inclusive government is in place. I'm confident it will be easier to mobilize all Iraqis against -- And to mobilize greater support from our friends and allies. Ultimately only Iraqis can ensure the security and stability of Iraq. The United States can do it for them what we can and will be partners. In that effort. One final thing as we go forward will continue to consult. With congress and coordinate closely with our allies and partners. And as Americans we will continue to show gratitude to our men and women in uniform were conducting. Our operations there. When called they were ready as they always are. When given their mission they perform -- distinction as they always do and what we see them serving with such honor and compassion. Defending our fellow citizens and saving the lives of people they've never met it makes -- proud to be Americans as we always will be. So -- that -- couple questions. For how long a period of time do you see these airstrikes continuing floor and -- -- -- -- to contain prices went to destroy it. I'm not gonna give -- a particular timetable because. As I've said from the start. Wherever and whenever US personnel. And facilities are threatened. It's my obligation. My responsibility as commander in chief. To make sure that they are protected and we're not moving our embassy any time -- -- -- moving our consulate. Any time soon and that means that. Given the challenging security environment. We're going to maintain vigilance and insure that our people are safe. Our initial. Goal is to not only make sure Americans are protected. But also to deal with this humanitarian situation -- -- We feel confident that weekend. -- -- -- from going up a mountain and slaughtering the people were there but. The next step which is going to be complicated logistically is how -- we. Give safe passage for people down from mountain. And work and we will ultimately relocate them so that they are safe. That's the kind of coordination that we need do internationally. -- It was very pleased to get. The cooperation of both. Prime mister Cameron and president alone in addressing some immediate needs terms of air drops and some of the assets and logistical support that the provided but -- a broader. Set of questions that are experts and our engaged in. With the United Nations and our allies and partners and that is -- Potentially create a -- -- or or some other mechanism so that these people can move that may take some time because there. Are varying estimates of how many people -- up there but -- in the thousands and moving them is not simple. In this kind of security of our. -- just to give people a sense though. -- timetable. They're the most important timetable but I'm focused on right now -- the Iraqi Government getting -- and finalize. Because. In the absence. An Iraqi Government. It is very hard to get a unified effort. By Iraqis. Against us. We can conduct airstrikes but ultimately there's not going to be an American military solution. To this problem there's gonna have to be. An Iraqi solution that America. And other countries and allies support. And that can't happen effectively until you have a legitimate. Iraqi Government so right now we have a president. We have eight speaker. What we don't yet have is a prime minister and the cabinet that has formed. That can go ahead and and to move forward and then start reaching out. To all the various groups and factions inside Iraq. And can give confidence to populations. In the Sunni areas that -- -- not the only game in town. It also then allows us to take those Iraqi Security Forces. That are able and functional. And they understand who the reporting to and what they're fighting for. And what the chain of commanders and provides -- structure in which. You better cooperation is taken place between the Kurdish region. And in Baghdad. So we're going to be pushing very hard to -- to encourage Iraqis to get their government together until we do that. It is going to be hard to get the unity of effort that allows us to. -- just play defense but also. Engage in some office. I think -- fought long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq without uncertain outcome. How do you assure the American people that we're not getting dragged into another war in Iraq have you underestimated the power of life this. And finally you said that you -- international charges against Kerry effort. If any thought the talking international partners. Bars military actions prevent the -- -- -- -- Couple things I would say number one I've been very clear that we're not gonna have US combat troops in Iraq again and we are going to. Maintain that. Because we should have learned a lesson from. -- Long. And immensely costly incursion in Iraq. And that is that. Our military so effective. That we can keep a lid on problems wherever we are if we put enough. -- Personnel and and and resources into. But it can only last if the people in these countries themselves are able to arrive at. Because of political accommodations and compromise. That. Any civilized society requires. And so it would be I think a big mistake for us to think that. We can on the -- simply go in. -- everything down again. Restart. Without some fundamental. Shift in in attitudes among. Various Iraqi factions that's why it is so important to have an Iraqi Government. On the ground that is taken responsibility. That we can help that we can partner with. That has the capacity to get alliances in the region. And and once that's in place -- I think. We end up being one of many. Countries that can work together to deal -- the broader crisis that that I supposes. -- -- other questions debate we underestimate. As -- I think that. That there is no doubt that. There advance their movement over the last several months has been more rapid. Than. The intelligence estimates and I think. The expectations. Of -- policy makers both in and out of outside of Iraq. And part of that is. I think not a full appreciation of the degree to which the Iraqi Security Forces. When -- far away from Baghdad. Did not have. The incentive or the capacity to hold -- -- Against. An aggressive. Adversary. And so that's one more reason why. Iraqi Government formation is so important because there has to be a rebuilding and it and an understanding. Of -- who would is that the Iraqi Security Forces are reporting to what they are fighting for. And there has to be some investment by -- In. Pushing back against us I don't I think. Were already saying and we will see even further. The degree to which. Those territories under wrestle control alienate populations because of the barbarity and and brutality. With which they operate. But. In order to. Ensure that Sunni populations. Reject. Outright. These kinds -- incursions they've got to feel like. They're invested in. A broader. National government and and right now they don't battlefield. So. The upshot is that. What. We've seen over the last several months. Indicates. The weaknesses. In. An Iraqi Government. By. What we've also seen I think is. A wake up call for a lot of -- inside of Baghdad recognizing that we're going to have to rethink how we do business if we're -- -- hold our country together and hopefully. That change in attitude. Supplemented by. Improved security efforts. In which we can assist and help. Back and make a difference. -- Expressed confidence that the Iraqi Government can eventually. Prevent mistake. But -- also just describe the complications the Iraqi Government. And the sophistication of -- so is it possible that what you've described and your ambitions there could take years. I don't think we're gonna solve this problem in weeks if that's what you mean I think this is gonna take some time. The of Iraqi Security Forces. In order to mount an offensive and be able operate effectively with the support populations in Sunni areas. Are gonna have to. Revamp. Get re supplied. Have a clear strategy. That's. All going to be dependent on a government that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military have confidence and we can help in all those efforts. Think part of what we're able to do right now is to pervert to reserve a space. Four. Them to do. Do the hard work that's necessary. If they do that the one thing -- I also think -- changed is that. Many of the Sunni countries in the region who have been. Generally suspicious or wary of the Iraqi Government. Are more likely to join in. In the fight against crisis and that. Can be extremely helpful. But there's going to be a long term project. Part of what we've seen is that. Let's. A minority Sunni population in Iraq. As well was a majority Sunni population in Syria. It has felt dissatisfied. And detached and alienated from. Their respective governments and that has been a ripe territory for these jihadist extremists operate. And rebuilding. Governments in those areas. And legitimacy for. Stable moderate. Governing. In those areas is gonna take is going to take time. It. -- immediate concerns that we have to worry about we have to make sure that. I soul is not. Engaging in the actions that. Could cripple. A country permanent. There's key infrastructure inside of Iraq that. We have to be concerned about. My team -- has been vigilant. Even before. -- -- went into Mosul about. Foreign fighters and -- artists and gathering in Syria and now in Iraq. Who might potentially launch attacks outside. The region against -- western targets. And US targets so there's going to be a counterterrorism element that. We are already preparing for and have been they're working diligently on for a long time now there's going to be. A a military element. In protecting our people. But the long term campaign of changing -- bad environment. So that. The millions of Sunnis who live. In these areas feel connected to and small served by. -- national government that's that's a long term process and that's something that the United States cannot do. Only the Iraqi People themselves can do we can help we can advise. But we can do -- form. And the US military cannot do it for -- so this goes back to the earlier question about. US military involvement. That the nature of this problem. Is not one that a US military consult. We can assist and our military obviously can play an extraordinarily important role in bolstering. Efforts. A Iraqi partner. As they make. The right steps 22. Keep their country together but we can't do reform -- -- -- question. And president -- -- hundred billion dollars in Iraq do you anticipate having -- congress for additional funds to support this mission. Currently we. Are operated within. The budget constraints that we already have. And we'll have to evaluate. You know what happens over time we -- have a lot of assets in the region. We anticipate. When we make our preliminary budgets that there may be things that come up. Requiring us to engage and right now at least I think we are okay if and when we need. Additional dollars to make sure that American personnel -- American -- facilities are protected. Them. We will certainly. And make that request but. Right now that's not our primary concern -- But to give any second thoughts about. Pulling all ground troops out of Iraq into the give -- -- as the US. The -- is doing the same thing in Afghanistan. You know what -- what I just find interest during news. The degree to which this this. Issue keeps on coming up as if this was my decision. Under the previous administration. We had turned over the country. To a sovereign democratically elected Iraqi Government. In order for us to maintain troops in Iraq. We needed. The invitation of the Iraqi Government and we needed assurances that. -- personnel would be immune from prosecution. If for example there are protecting themselves. And ended up getting in a firefight with the Rockies that they -- be hauled before. Iraqi. An Iraqi judicial system. And the Iraqi Government based on its political considerations. In part because Iraqis were tired. A US occupation. Declined to provide us those assurances. And on that basis we left we had offered to leave additional troops so when you hear people say. Do you regret mr. -- not leaving more troops that presupposes that I would have overridden. This sovereign government. That we have turned the keys back over to. And said you know what your democratic your sovereign except. If I decide that it's good for -- keep. 101000 or 151000 or 45000 Marines in your country. You don't have a choice. Which would have got to run contrary to. The entire argument we're making about turning over the country back to Iraqis. An argument -- just made by me but made by the previous administration. -- so let's just be clear the reason that we did not have a follow on force in Iraq. Was because the Iraqis. Were. A majority of Iraqis did not want. US troops and politically. They could not pass the kind of laws that would be required to protect our troops. In Iraq. Having said all that. If in fact the Iraqi Government. Behave the way it did over the last 56 years where it failed to pass. Legislation that would -- incorporate. Sunnis and give them a sense of ownership. If it had targeted certain Sunni leaders and jail. If -- had alienated. Some of the Sunni tribes that we have brought back -- during. -- so called awakening that helped us turn the tide in 2006. -- they've done all those things in ways that have had troops there. -- The country -- be holding together it. -- -- be we'd -- much troops on the ground. There would be vulnerable and power many troops we had. We would have to now be reinforcing I'd have to be protecting them and we have a much bigger job. -- probably we would end up having to go up again in terms the number of ground troops. To make sure that those forces were were not vulnerable. So. That entire analysis. Is bogus and is -- But gets frequently pedaled around here by folks who. Oftentimes or are trying to defend previous policies that they themselves made. Going forward and would respect Afghanistan. We are -- follow on force. -- I think the lesson for Afghanistan is not. The fact that. We've got to follow on force that will be capable of training and supporting. Afghan security efforts -- -- the real lesson Afghanistan is that if factions in a country after a long period of civil war. Do not find a way to come up with a political accommodation. If they take Max -- positions and their attitude is. -- -- a 100%. Of what I want and the other side gets nothing. Then. That the senator doesn't hold. And the good news this is that in part thanks to the excellent work of John Kerry and others. We now are saying. The two candidates. In the recent presidential election start coming together. And agreeing not only to move forward on the audit. Be able to finally certify a winner in the election but also. The kinds of political accommodations that are going to be required. To keep democracy movement -- that's a real lesson I think for Afghan. For Afghanistan coming out of Iraq. Is. If you if you want this thing to work. Then. Whether it's you know different ethnicity is different religions different regions. They've got to -- -- Otherwise you start took him back into old patterns of violence and that matter how many US troops are there if that happens. You end up Kevin a Mets -- -- -- -- -- and Obama updating the American people. On the latest military. Action in Iraq he will now headed back into the Oval Office where he will collect his family the first -- -- will board. A Marine One which you can now see on the South Lawn. Which you can see behind him as he spoke they'll take up for two weeks of vacation perhaps the most striking moment there this president who ran for office saying he was going to pull our troops. Out of Iraq and then did so in 2011. Now saying that these latest air strikes. That he refuses to set a set a timetable on -- and that quote the problem is not going to be solved in a matter of weeks. That this is a long term project that project. So let me bring in ABC's Martha Raddatz who covers national security issues for -- -- we could be talking about -- monthlong engagement. For this president who called the Iraq War back in 2002 dumb war. He certainly did and -- you can go back and see a lot of statement sent out. Positive developments there and that they saw the future of Iraq we'll be right I would like those convoys -- the last convoys going out of the rocket and listening to US administration officials at the time I think. He can't put a timetable on this because he doesn't -- know what those -- its troops will do this Islamic militants. They have to get those people ask about my thought that was -- very interest in. -- in the press conference there has to get them they can't just leave them out there. And heat trapping -- -- -- supplying themselves that indeed will become. Complicated I think -- also talking about longer term dance that you can't solve this problem in Iraq. In -- few weeks or even a few months. And it probably won't be solved -- a few years this is a long term project. Also striking is that he keeps talking about replacing not just replacing the prime minister but but wanting an Iraqi Government that is inclusive. They have not been able to do that yet I don't know how they'll be able to -- that going forward. But they have not been able to do it yet and that's part of -- this -- take it scary longtime it -- -- a lot of looms between the petition. In Iraq right now. -- all of these problems are one could argue stem from the lack of political consensus on the ground in Iraq that delegated -- -- BC's Jeff Downey because the politics here in America are complex -- the president is trying to walk a tight -- between. His critics on the left who say he's potentially going to Myers in two quagmire in Iraq. And critics on the right who say we wouldn't be in this. Situation in the first place if he hadn't withdrawn precipitously in 2011 in fact you heard the president. A push back against that analysis quite vigorously in his -- and it. He did then he pushed back more than we've heard -- a long time and I think the president you can sum it up like this he was defensive on one hand. But to find on the other he is rejecting the argument that this is his fault. He reminds people but he reminds Americans that the Iraqi Government did not sign that joint forces agreement but. -- the politics of this are so complicated for this president. Heading -- mid term election year a new presidential campaign just along the horizon but. One thing is clear Iraq is going to be a part of his legacy. And it's going to be with him for the remainder of his time in office here and not setting a timetable for this saying it's going to take a long time. It's key that this is going to be with him until the end. An interesting moment for President Obama no question about it -- -- our thanks to you and to Martha rats as well -- joined us on the phone that concludes this special report for a full wrap up of the day's events you can tune in to world news later today you get the latest anytime. On abcnews.com. For now though we're gonna return you to regular programming. Which on the West Coast is GM bank. I'm Dan Harris have a great day. This has been a special report. From ABC news.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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