June 13, 2014 -- President Obama today ruled out sending U.S. troops "back into combat" in Iraq despite the threat from a surging army of Islamic militants.
But as several cities in the once American-occupied nation fall under the flags of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, Obama told reporters his National Security Council was still considering options.
“I'll be reviewing those options in the days ahead,” Obama said on the White House’s south lawn. “I do want to be clear, though. This is not solely, or even primarily, a military challenge."
The president seemed to suggest that the Iraqis had squandered the "extraordinary sacrifices" made by Americans to stabilize the country.
“Unfortunately, Iraqi leaders have been unable to overcome, too often, the mistrust and sectarian differences that have long been simmering there. And that's created vulnerabilities within the Iraqi government, as well as their security forces,” he said.
Obama said, however, that besides the danger ISIS poses to Iraq "given the nature of these terrorists, it could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well."
The president said he has asked his National Security Council for a "range of options," but he said, "We will not be sending us troops back into combat in Iraq."
"Any action that we may take to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces has to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq's leaders to set aside sectarian differences," Obama said.
Obama added, "Ultimately it's up to Iraqis to solve their problems."
He added, "The U.S. simply is not going to get involved in a military action without assurances" that the Iraqi government will take actions to unify the country and reduce sectarian tensions.
Obama also chided Maliki's government for refusing to cooperate with the U.S. earlier.
“In Iraq, the Iraqi government, which was initially resistant to some of our offers of help, has come around now to recognize that cooperation with us on some of these issues can be useful,” he said.
The Obama administration has been alarmed by capturing the city of Fallujah, Iraq, earlier this year and then seeing ISIS sweep north this week to chase the Iraqi army out of Mosul, Tikrit, Baji and surrounding towns.
The militants vow to march on Baghdad and so far the Iraqi army has shown little willingness to confront them. The government of President Nouri al-Maliki has appealed for help, including a request for U.S. air power to pummel the insurgents.
ISIS controls a huge swath of territory that is bigger than many countries and extends from the edge of Aleppo in western Syria across the Iraqi border to Falluja in the south and Mosul in the north. The group is known for its radical Islam, a form so violent that it has been disowned by al Qaeda.