US Secretary of State John Kerry vowed Monday that the United States would provide “intense” support to Iraq to help it battle a militant offensive.
“The support will be intense, sustained, and if Iraq’s leaders take the steps needed to bring the country together it will be effective,” Kerry told reporters after a day of meetings in Baghdad.
Kerry made the remarks at the US embassy in Baghdad, in the heavily-fortified Green Zone, after talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other leaders from across the political and communal spectrum, AFP reports.
Jihadists who have spearheaded an offensive that has overrun swathes of territory north of Baghdad pose an “existential threat” to Iraq, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday.
“It is a moment of decision for Iraq’s leaders,” Kerry told journalists in Baghdad.
“Iraq faces an existential threat and Iraq’s leaders have to meet that threat.”
A major militant offensive, led by ISIL but involving a raft of other Sunni groups as well, began in Iraq’s main northern city Mosul on June 9.
The militants took Iraq’s second-biggest city the following day, swept through the surrounding province of Nineveh and took major parts of four more provinces as well.
Baghdad has appealed for US air strikes against militants, but Washington has not acceded to that request, instead offering up to 300 military advisers.
On Thursday, US President Barack Obama said he is prepared to send up to 300 military advisors to Iraq to help the Iraqi military fend off the militant Islamist threat. But he will only deploy “precise military actions” – an apparent reference to the airstrikes requested by the Iraqi government – once intelligence on the ground improves and if the situation demands it.
A few teams of about a dozen advisors each are to arrive “very soon” from their bases in the region, a senior administration official said on about the background details.
They are to focus first on helping Iraqi troops secure Baghdad, starting with the perimeter around Baghdad “and making sure that that’s not overrun,” Obama said.
A second joint operation center is to be set up in northern Iraq. The advisors will deploy to Iraqi military headquarters and possibly brigades, a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity.
They will “share intelligence and coordinate planning to confront the terrorist threat of ISIL,” Obama said.
Obama insisted that the presence of advisors would not be a signal of return to combat in Iraq, and his administration was careful to refer to the military personnel as advisors, not troops.
“We do not have the ability to simply solve this problem by sending in tens of thousands of troops and committing the kinds of blood and treasure that has already been expended in Iraq,” he said.
The US will not send in soldiers to actively call in airstrikes, officials said.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi raised concerns about even a small military mission to Iraq, warning that numbers have “a tendency to grow.”
Obama warned that the growing prospects of civil war in Iraq pose the danger of a humanitarian crisis, destabilization “throughout the region” and disruption of important “energy and global energy markets” that the US is committed to protecting.