Obama Says Combating Militants in Iraq Will Take ‘Some Time’

Aug 09, 2014 12:07 pm ET

Aug. 9 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said strikes against militants in Iraq will be “a long-term project,” as he pressed the nation’s leaders to quickly form a more inclusive government that would unite its defenses.

“I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks,” Obama told reporters today on the White House lawn. “This is going to take some time.”

U.S. aircraft hit Islamic State militants in multiple airstrikes yesterday at the start of a sustained campaign to protect American personnel and prevent the massacre of ethnic and religious minorities in northern Iraq.

Those forces will carry out more attacks to break a siege of thousands of people trapped on a mountain who fled slaughter below, Obama said.

Obama also said the U.S. was considering its next steps to “give safe passage for people down from the mountain and where can we ultimately relocate them so that they are safe.”

Saying the current operation may take “some months,” he reiterated that he won’t commit U.S. ground forces to Iraq.

He said he would stick to that position “because we should have learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion in Iraq,” referring to that U.S. invasion of the country in 2003 under President George W. Bush.

Obama ran for president in 2008 on ending the war in Iraq, and under his administration the last U.S. troops left the country in December 2011.

“The reason that we did not have a follow-on force in Iraq is because a majority of Iraqis did not want U.S. troops there,’” he said.

Troop Pullout

Islamic State, which was previously known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, has seized territory in Iraq and Syria and declared its own self-styled caliphate, highlighting the central government’s inability to ensure security under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

After its breakthrough two months ago, when it routed the Iraqi army and seized the city of Mosul, the group has returned to the offensive this week, defeating Kurdish fighters and sparking a refugee crisis, especially among communities of the Yezidi religious minority near the Syrian border.

Obama stressed the need for the Iraqi government to restructure itself in a more inclusive fashion, saying that is the ultimate solution to the nation’s turmoil.

“The nature of this problem is not one that the U.S. military can solve,’” he said.

Jets and drones bombed an artillery installation, mortar positions and a militant convoy in three separate missions near Erbil yesterday. The Kurdish regional capital is home to U.S. diplomatic staff and an operations center where American military personnel are advising Iraqi forces.

“All Iraqi communities are ultimately threatened by these barbaric terrorists,” Obama said as he prepared to leave for a two-week family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Obama authorized the strikes earlier this week after pleas from Iraq’s central government and Kurdish leaders trying to blunt the advance of the Sunni Islamic State, which has terrorized religious minorities and used beheadings to intimidate the civilian population.

--With assistance from Aziz Alwan, Khalid Al-Ansary and Kadhim Ajrash in Baghdad, Sangwon Yoon in Kabul, Derek Wallbank and Kathleen Hunter in Washington and Robert Tuttle in Doha.