WASHINGTON — American ground troops are not headed back to Iraq to rescue that country's regime from a growing threat from "vicious terrorist group" ISIS, President Obama said Friday.
But the rapidly degrading situation in Iraq may require some U.S. military intervention, Obama said, though what exactly it might entail, even if it will happen at all, remains open questions. In a brief statement and Q&A with reporters on the south lawn of the White House, Obama repeatedly condemned ISIS as "terrorists" and also chastised the Iraqi regime for not standing strong in the face of ISIS forces.
"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, noting that many Iraqi soldiers have abandoned their posts and refused to fight as ISIS has moved into cities across the country.
"So any action that we make 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, to promote stability and account for the legitimate interests of all of Iraq's communities, and to continue to build the capacity of an effective security force. We can't do it for them," Obama added.
Obama said ISIS gains in Iraq "could pose a threat eventually to American interests," and so his team will be talking with the Iraqi regime over the weekend to determine what, if anything, the U.S. does to help. But the president insisted action will come only if disparate Iraqi groups present a unified plan to move forward.
"I want to make sure that everybody understands this message — the United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they're prepared to work together," Obama said. "We're not going to allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation in which while we're there we're keeping a lid on things, and, after enormous sacrifices by us, as soon as we're not there, suddenly people end up acting in ways that are not conductive to the long-term stability and prosperity of the country."