-- President Obama is lining up ISIS targets in Iraq and may launch an attack on the militant Islamic militia that is threatening Baghdad even if he does not get an agreement with the Iraqi regime, Secretary of State John Kerry said today.
Speaking in Baghdad after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other political leaders, Kerry said Obama is "each day" gaining more certainty of the targets he would strike if the United States decided on its own to take military action.
"He has reserved the right to himself, as he should, to make a decision at any point in time if he deems it necessary strategically," Kerry said.
Obama has said he would not provide Iraq more military support unless it forms a government more accepting of religious minorities, but Kerry stressed that Obama wouldn't hesitate to have the U.S. conduct its own military operations if necessary.
"The president has moved the assets into place and has been gaining each day the assurances he needs with respect to potential targeting," Kerry said.
Kerry has been urging Maliki and Iraqi politicians to form a government, currently composed overwhelmingly of Shiites, that will include Sunnis and Kurds.
If that happens, American support "will be intense, sustained, and if Iraq's leaders take the necessary steps to bring the country together, it will be effective."
Kerry said that message had been received loud and clear by members of the Iraqi leadership, and that they are committed to having the Iraqi parliament convene on July 1, where it would select a new cabinet, president and prime minister.
Kerry conceded that Obama may not be able to wait for Iraqi politics.
"President Obama has not declared that he will wait," he said.
"He sent me here to evaluate in my discussions with the leadership what choices they are prepared to make," Kerry said. "But clearly if there is evidence that requires some kind of action prior to that process being completed, the president maintains the prerogative of making that decision."
The Islamic militia ISIS has swept through much of northern and western Iraq and now menaces the capital Baghdad. The American trained Iraqi army crumbled in the face of the attack.
The president has already authorized as many as 300 U.S. special forces troops to be deployed to Iraq to advise the Iraqi military and today the Pentagon said Iraq has agreed to provide protection for the American teams, a necessary step before the special forces would be deployed.
A U.S. official confirmed today that two teams already in Iraq made up of forces already assigned to the embassy will begin their assessments later this week. Up to four more 12-man teams will also arrive soon.