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Obama proposes broader long-term strategy in Iraq

Published:Sunday | August 10, 2014 | 8:00 AM

WASHINGTON (AP):

United States President Barack Obama yesterday refused to give a time limit on America's renewed military involvement in Iraq, saying he didn't think "we are going to solve this problem in weeks" as the country struggles to form a new government.

"I think this is going to take some time," he said at the White House before departing for a vacation on Martha's Vineyard off the Massachusetts coast.

Obama warned Americans that the new campaign to bring security in Iraq requires military and political changes and "is going to be a long-term project".

The president said Iraqi security forces need to revamp to effectively mount an offensive, which requires a government in Baghdad that the Iraqi military and people have confidence in. Obama said Iraq needs a prime minister - an indication that suggests he's written off the legitimacy of the incumbent, Nouri al-Maliki.

Obama said he would not close the US Embassy in Baghdad or the consulate in Irbil, which means American troops and diplomats will remain on the ground. He said he wass obligated as commander in chief to protect US personnel wherever and whenever they are threatened.

The president said humanitarian efforts continue to airdrop food and water to persecuted religious minorities stranded on a mountaintop, and he said planning was under way for how to get them down. Obama said that he had spoken with French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron, and that both agreed to work with the US in providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqis threatened by Islamic State militants.

Obama made his comments and took a few questions from reporters on the South Lawn of the White House just before boarding his Marine One helicopter to leave for his summer vacation.

"I'm ready to not have a suit on for a while," Obama told reporters as he headed back into the White House before boarding the helicopter.

The president repeated that the US would not have US combat troops in Iraq again.

"We are going to maintain that because we should have learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion into Iraq," Obama said.

He dismissed the suggestion that the new military action in Iraq might cause him to regret pulling out troops in the first place. He said the departure of US troops was the Iraqi government's call because it failed to agree to legal immunity for American forces, which was the condition for them to stay.

Obama said that even if US troops had remained, their presence would not have made much of a difference if the Iraqi government had followed the same political course of failing to incorporate the Sunni minority.

"The only difference is we would have a bunch of troops on the ground that would be vulnerable," Obama said.

"So that entire analysis is bogus and is wrong, but gets frequently peddled around here by folks who oftentimes are trying to defend previous policies that they themselves made," he said.

But in as much as Iraqi leaders couldn't agree on immunity for US forces, Obama also badly wanted US troops out of Iraq to fulfil a campaign pledge.

The president said there's "no doubt" the Islamic State's advance on Irbil "has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates." But he said the air strikes have destroyed the militants' arms and equipment.

US military jets launched several air strikes Friday on isolated targets, including two mortar positions and a vehicle convoy. US officials announced Friday night the second airdrop of food and water in as many days for the imperilled refugees.