By Justin Sink - 06/23/14 07:10 AM EDT
President Obama insisted in TV interviews airing Monday morning that only Iraqi political leadership, and not U.S. military force, could help solve sectarian divisions threatening to plunge the country into a civil war.
He called on the Iraqi government to rise above sectarian differences and compromise, adding that there's “no amount of American firepower” that can hold Iraq together if that doesn't happen.
“The forces that have always possibly pulled Iraq apart are stronger now,” he added in an interview with MSNBC. “The forces that could keep the country united are weaker. It is ultimately going to be up to the Iraqi leadership to pull the politics of the country back together again.”
An al Qaeda-affiliated terror group known as The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria seized much of Iraqi’s north, bolstered by Sunni frustration with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Despite warnings from the U.S., al-Maliki, a Shiite, has spent recent years purging Sunni officials from the government and military.
In his interview with CNN, Obama called on the Iraqi government to rise above sectarian differences and compromise.
He said the U.S. would not launch military strikes without “Sunni, Shia and Kurd representation and political support for what we’re doing.”
“We can’t do it for them, and we certainly can’t deploy tens of thousands of troops to solve a problem if the people don’t want it,” he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad on Monday for meetings with leaders from across the Iraqi political spectrum, hoping to broker a political solution to the crisis.
“Following on President Obama's announcement last week, [Secretary of State John Kerry] will discuss U.S. actions underway to assist Iraq as it confronts this threat from ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant] and urge Iraqi leaders to move forward as quickly as possible with its government formation process to forge a government that represents the interests of all Iraqis,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
In his interview with CBS News, Obama said the U.S. at most would deploy “a more focused, more targeted strategy and we're going to have to partner and train local law enforcement and military to do their jobs as well.”
“What we’re not going to be able to do is play whack-a-mole, chase wherever extremists appear, occupy those countries for long period of time and think we’re going to solve those problems,” he told MSNBC. “That’s something that, even as the world’s lone superpower, exceeds our capabilities.”
Obama said the most the U.S. could hope to do in the face of a rapidly changing Middle East was “work with the best impulses there.”
“Authoritarian regimes were able to maintain national boundaries despite the fact that internally, there were all kinds of sectarian divisions,” Obama said.
“As those regimes have begun to collapse and break apart, in part because of corruption in part because of changes in society generally and economic pressures, there’s going to be this long, difficult transition moving to a different kind of society in the Middle East.”