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Press Conference by President Obama on Iraq

Speaker: Barack Obama
Published August 9, 2014

President Barack Obama held a press conference on August 9, 2014, to discuss U.S. airstrikes and delivery of humanitarian aid in Iraq. On August 11, 2014, President Obama provided an update on military operations in Iraq and the establishment of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Excerpt from the August 9 press conference:

Q: Mr. President, for how long a period of time do you see these airstrikes continuing for? And is your goal there to contain ISIS or to destroy it?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to give a particular timetable, because as I've said from the start, wherever and whenever U.S. personnel and facilities are threatened, it's my obligation, my responsibility as Commander-in-Chief, to make sure that they are protected. And we're not moving our embassy anytime soon. We're not moving our consulate anytime soon. And that means that, given the challenging security environment, we're going to maintain vigilance and ensure that our people are safe.

Our initial goal is to not only make sure Americans are protected, but also to deal with this humanitarian situation in Sinjar. We feel confident that we can prevent ISIL from going up a mountain and slaughtering the people who are there. But the next step, which is going to be complicated logistically, is how do we give safe passage for people down from the mountain, and where can we ultimately relocate them so that they are safe. That's the kind of coordination that we need to do internationally.

I was very pleased to get the cooperation of both Prime Minister Cameron and President Hollande in addressing some of the immediate needs in terms of airdrops and some of the assets and logistical support that they're providing. But there's a broader set of questions that our experts now are engaged in with the United Nations and our allies and partners, and that is how do we potentially create a safe corridor or some other mechanism so that these people can move. That may take some time -- because there are varying estimates of how many people are up there, but they're in the thousands, and moving them is not simple in this kind of security environment.

Just to give people a sense, though, of a timetable -- that the most important timetable that I'm focused on right now is the Iraqi government getting formed and finalized. Because in the absence of an Iraqi government, it is very hard to get a unified effort by Iraqis against ISIL. We can conduct airstrikes, but ultimately there's not going to be an American military solution to this problem. There's going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries and allies support. And that can't happen effectively until you have a legitimate Iraqi government.

So right now we have a president, we have a speaker. What we don't yet have is a prime minister and a cabinet that is formed that can go ahead and move forward, and then start reaching out to all the various groups and factions inside of Iraq, and can give confidence to populations in the Sunni areas that ISIL is not the only game in town. It also then allows us to take those Iraqi security forces that are able and functional, and they understand who they're reporting to and what they're fighting for, and what the chain of command is. And it provides a structure in which better cooperation is taking place between the Kurdish region and Baghdad.

So we're going to be pushing very hard to encourage Iraqis to get their government together. Until we do that, it is going to be hard to get the unity of effort that allows us to not just play defense, but also engage in some offense.

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