President Obama speaks to reporters on the situation in Iraq in the South Lawn of the White House, on June 13, 2014.
President Obama speaks to reporters on the situation in Iraq in the South Lawn of the White House, on June 13, 2014. // Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Obama to Iraq: ‘We Can’t Do This for You’

President Barack Obama said Friday he is considering military intervention in Iraq, but had a clear message for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: “We can’t do this for you.”

Obama said he will not put U.S. boots on the ground again in Iraq. The Pentagon is moving the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf to prepare for possible airstrikes and Obama’s national security team is planning military and diplomatic options to put a stop to the worsening violence in Iraq. But Obama said he will not provide U.S. military might unless the Iraqis will stand up and fight and work to put an end to the worsening sectarian violence.

“This should be a wake up call for Iraq,” he said.

Any U.S. action, he said, “has to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq’s leaders to set aside sectarian differences, promote stability … [and] continue to build the capacity of a security force.”

In recent days, members of the al-Qaeda off-shoot, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have taken hold of huge swaths of Iraq, including the key cities of Mosul and Tikrit and several areas near Baghdad. And Iran has reportedly deployed Iranian Revolutionary Guard units to Iraq to help fight ISIS.

Obama said the spread of ISIS “is a regional problem and it’s going to be a long-term problem” and one that threatens U.S. national security. “We’re going to have to combine selective actions by our military … with what is a very challenging international effort to try to rebuild countries and communities that have been shattered by sectarian war, and that’s not an easy task.”

But he made clear that the U.S. is not going back to war in Iraq. “The United States is not going to involve itself … allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation in which while we’re there we’re keeping a lid on things … soon as we’re not there, people end up acting in ways that are not conducive to the long term stability of the country,” he said. 

“Over the past decade American troops have made extraordinary sacrifices in order to give Iraqis a chance to claim their own future,” he said. “The U.S. has poured a lot of money into Iraq security forces … the fact they are not willing to stand and fight and defend their posts against admittedly hardened terrorists … [indicates a] problem in terms of morale, of commitment, ultimately that’s rooted in the political problems that have plagued the country for a long time.”

“Nobody has an interest in seeing terrorists gain a foothold,” he said, but added: “Ultimately, it is up to the Iraqis as a sovereign nation.”