Photo: Barack Obama (Pete Souza)
U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday that the first airstrikes carried out against the Sunni militant group Islamic State in northern Iraq were successful, but stressed that the solution to the problem posed by the jihadists lies in creating a strong an inclusive Iraqi government.
In a speech before beginning his summer vacation, Obama addressed the situation in that region less than two days after authorizing “targeted” airstrikes against the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and a humanitarian operation to help tens of thousands of members of the Yazidi religious group who had fled the militants and were in mortal peril on a mountaintop.
U.S. forces have carried out airstrikes on the Islamic militants outside Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where U.S. diplomats and military personnel are stationed, to prevent them from advancing on that city, Obama said.
Those strikes have successfully destroyed weapons and equipment that the Islamic State, which has proclaimed a caliphate in parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria, could have used against Erbil, the president added.
He also noted that the Iraqi government and the United States have increased their assistance to Kurdish pesh merga forces battling the Islamic State in that northern region.
Those forces have regrouped thanks to the U.S. military intervention and launched an offensive on Saturday to recover towns near the northern city of Mosul, which the Islamic State captured on June 10 as part of its caliphate project.
Obama said, however, that the Iraqi government has the ultimate responsibility for solving the problem and that there is no “U.S. military solution.”
He called for an new “inclusive government,” a further indication that he has lost confidence in Iraq’s current Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who Washington says has alienated the country’s Sunni minority.
Obama said once a new government is in place it will be easier to mobilize all Iraqis against the Islamic State and garner greater support from the United States’ friends and allies.
The president gave no timetable for the airstrike campaign, saying it would be a “long-term project,” but reiterated his pledge that the United States would not send combat troops back to Iraq.
Speaking of the humanitarian campaign for the Yazidis, a community of ethnic Kurds who practice an ancient religion and were forced by the Islamic extremists to flee their homes, Obama said the U.S. military had dropped two rounds of food and water on Mt. Sinjar for those refugees.
Islamic State is a coalition of jihadists, tribal militias and veterans of the late Saddam Hussein’s army.