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Obama says ending Iraq crisis could be "long-term project"

Published on Aug 9, 2014 11:02 PM
US President Barack Obama delivers a statement before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Aug 9, 2014 in Washington, DC. US airstrikes have destroyed the arms and equipment of militants in Iraq, Mr Obama said Saturday, insisting there was no timetable for the American military offensive launched this week. -- PHOTO: AFP 

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - United States President Barack Obama said on Saturday US airstrikes have destroyed arms and equipment that Islamic State insurgents could have used to attack Arbil, the Iraqi Kurdish capital, but warned Americans it could take some time to end the crisis.

"I don't think we're going to solve this problem in weeks. This is going to take some time," Obama said during a brief news conference before leaving Washington for a two-week vacation in Massachusetts.

Obama said the US would continue to provide military assistance and advice to the Baghdad government and Kurdish forces, but stressed repeatedly the importance of Iraq forming its own inclusive government "right now".

"I think this a wake-up call for a lot of Iraqis inside of Baghdad recognising that we're going to have to rethink how we do business if we're going to hold our country together," he said.

Obama on Thursday authorised the US military to make airdrops of humanitarian assistance to prevent what he called a potential "genocide" of the Yazidi religious sect in Iraq and conduct targeted strikes on Islamic State fighters who have been seizing territory in northern Iraq, a limited operation to protect Americans working in the country.

It was the first direct US military action in the country since Obama withdrew US combat troops in 2011, and prompted concerns that Washington is getting involved in an open-ended Iraq project so soon after the costly and bloody war that began in 2003.

Obama said there had been two successful airdrops of food and water. He described next steps, including what would be a more complicated effort to create a safe corridor for the Yazidis to leave the arid mountain where they have been under siege by the Sunni Islamist fighters.

"American aircraft are positioned to strike (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) terrorists around the mountain to help forces in Iraq break the siege and rescue those who are trapped there," he said.

Obama emphasised that there are no plans to send in US ground troops, again stressing the need for a unified government in Baghdad.

"The most important timetable that I'm focused on right now is the Iraqi government getting formed and finalised,"he said.

"We should have learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion in Iraq," said the Democratic president, who made his opposition to the war launched by his Republican predecessor George W. Bush a key part of his first successful presidential campaign in 2008.

Obama said he spoke on Saturday morning with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande and they had agreed to provide humanitarian assistance for Iraqi civilians.

The jihadi Islamists have captured wide swathes of northern Iraq since June, executing non-Sunni Muslim captives and displacing tens of thousands of people.

Obama rejected any suggestion that he had withdrawn US forces from Iraq prematurely, noting that it was Baghdad's decision not to allow troops to stay.

He said the Iraqi operations would not need the US Congress to authorise additional funds for the moment, but he would make that request if it became necessary.