(Adds lawmakers' quotes, Lockheed Martin, Obama call to
Canadian Prime Minister, intelligence estimate)
By Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, June 13 President Barack Obama said
on Friday he needs several days to determine how the United
States will help Iraq deal with a militant insurgency, but he
ruled out sending U.S. troops back into combat and said any
intervention would be contingent on Iraqi leaders becoming more
The Pentagon is preparing a range of options for Obama,
including air strikes. The actions are aimed at helping Iraq
counter militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,
or ISIL, a group Obama described as "vicious" and a "terrorist
organization" that could eventually pose a threat to Americans.
Obama said Iraqi leaders needed to set aside sectarian
differences to deal with the threat, and said the United States
would engage in "intensive diplomacy" in the region to try to
prevent the situation from worsening.
"The United States is not simply going to involve itself in
a military action in the absence of a political plan by the
Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they are prepared to
work together," Obama told reporters at the White House.
Obama said he would consult with the U.S. Congress in coming
days. His fellow Democrats are reluctant to allow any U.S.
engagement in Iraq after the lengthy war, which began with the
2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple President Saddam Hussein.
"It is important to remember that military force alone
cannot bring peace," said Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the
House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.
Republicans have been critical of the president for what
they say has been dithering on Iraq.
"We shouldn't have boots on the ground, but we need to be
hitting these columns of terrorists marching on Baghdad with
drones now," said California Republican Ed Royce, the chairman
of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, members of the
Armed Services Committee, also called for air strikes. "This is
a moment to deal ISIS a crippling blow, when they are
over-stretched and least prepared for it," they said in a
U.S. SURVEILLANCE IN IRAQ
The United States stepped up its intelligence, surveillance
and reconnaissance support this week at Baghdad's request, said
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby. Some surveillance
drones have been collecting data on rebel movements.
A spokesman for Lockheed Martin, which makes Hellfire
missiles being sold to Iraq, said it would work with the U.S.
government to accelerate those deliveries, if asked.
Kirby declined to explicitly say whether the Pentagon was
confident the Iraqi security forces could hold Baghdad.
"We were surprised and disappointed by the poor performance
of some Iraqi security force units (that are) up in the north.
I'd be less than honest if I said that that performance
instilled a lot of confidence. It didn't," he said.
US counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of
anonymity, said ISIL appeared well positioned to keep the
territory it has captured if it maintains the support Sunnis in
the areas it has occupied and absent a major counteroffensive.
But he added: "The group faces the real prospect of
overstretch if it tries to press deep into Baghdad and beyond."
Obama said he was concerned that ISIL could try to overrun
Shi'ite sacred sites, creating sectarian conflicts "that could
be very hard to stamp out." The rebels are Sunni Muslims and the
Baghdad government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is dominated
"This is a regional problem, and it is going to be a
long-term problem. And what we're going to have to do is combine
selective actions by our military to make sure that we're going
after terrorists who could harm our personnel overseas or
eventually hit the homeland," Obama said.
Obama said he wanted to review intelligence on the situation
in Iraq so that any U.S. actions are "targeted, they are
precise, and they are going to have an effect."
He noted that the U.S. has already "poured a lot of money
into these Iraqi security forces."
Obama spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
about the crisis on Friday and was expected to talk to other
foreign leaders about the situation over the weekend, White
House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama
on Air Force One on a previously scheduled trip to North Dakota.
Obama was scheduled to spend the weekend in California.
Earnest said the Obama administration had not at this stage
discussed potential interventions with Iran, Iraq's neighbor to
the east and a backer of Maliki.
The United States and Iran, which have feuded since the 1979
Islamic revolution, would appear to have a joint interest in
defeating the Sunni Muslim insurgents who have seized large
swaths of northwestern Iraq. A senior Iranian official told
Reuters that Iran might be willing to cooperate with Washington.
Obama said the insurgency so far had not caused major
disruptions to oil supplies from Iraq, but that if insurgents
took control of refineries, other oil producers in the Middle
East would need to help "pick up the slack."
"That will be part of the consultations that will be taking
place during the course of this week," Obama said.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Susan Heavey, Eric Beech,
Patricia Zengerle, Warren Strobel, Phil Stewart, Missy Ryan,
Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Storey and Grant McCool)