WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama said yesterday US air strikes 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 told reporters 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 an 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.
Since an inconclusive general election in April, Baghdad has been in the grips of political deadlock, which has undermined efforts to combat the insurgents. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki is under pressure to abandon his bid for a third term in office but has shown little desire to step down.
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.
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) 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. “The most important timetable I’m focused on right now is the Iraqi government getting formed and finalised.”
Unesco Chief Irina Bokova called it an “emerging cultural cleansing”. “The US should strike Sinjar, even if there are civilian casualties. It’s better than letting everyone die.” The International Rescue Committee is providing emergency care to around 4,000 people who crossed safely into northeastern Syria.
Chaldean Catholic leaders said the largest Christian town in the country, Qaraqosh, had been emptied of its inhabitants in a matter of hours. The Islamist militants have captured wide swaths of northern Iraq since June, executing non-Sunni Muslim captives and displacing tens of thousands of people.