WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama brought Iraq's prime minister to the White House Tuesday to pledge U.S. support for his effort to run Islamic State militants out of its country, while making it clear that ultimately Baghdad must be in charge of its own destiny.
Obama's comments reflect war fatigue from Americans after more than a decade of military involvement in Iraq, as well as a signal to Iran about its involvement in helping fight Islamic State militants. Obama said any foreign assistance must be answerable to Iraq's chain of command.
After frustrations with the previous Iraqi government, Obama expressed confidence that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is a strong partner in fighting terrorism and forming a more inclusive government. He said al-Abadi is strengthening Iraqi security forces and has recovered about a quarter of the territory the Islamic State had captured in the country.
"This is a long process and in our discussions Prime Minister Abadi made clear that this success will not occur overnight. But what is clear is that we will be successful," Obama said during his first Oval Office meeting with the prime minister elected seven months ago.
Obama pledged $200 million in humanitarian aid to help those displaced by Islamic State militants, saying it's crucial the U.S. help support families who have been displaced by the militants.
Al-Abadi told reporters Monday that an increase in U.S. airstrikes, weapons deliveries and training has helped roll back Islamic State forces, but he needed greater support from the international coalition to "finish" them. "We want to see more," he said.
But White House press secretary Josh Earnest said al-Abadi made no specific request for additional military assistance.
Speaking to reporters at the end of their meeting, the prime minister thanked the United States for its sacrifices in the effort to liberate Iraq and said their cooperation is pushing back terrorism. He said he and Obama discussed plans to liberate the Islamic State strongholds in Anbar province and the city of Mosul, after a successful campaign backed by U.S. airstrikes to push the militants out of Tikrit.
"President Obama and the U.S. administration have expressed full readiness to provide support for our security forces in our effort to liberate all of Iraq," al-Abadi said.
Obama said the two leaders also discussed Iran's involvement in the fight against militants in Iraq, a major point of concern for the U.S. Shiite militias believed to be backed by Iran are playing a major role in helping the Iraqi military roll back IS advances in the country. "We expect Iran to have an important relationship with Iraq as a close neighbor," Obama said.
The United States insisted that Iraq roll back the Shiite militias before agreeing to airstrikes in Tikrit. Obama said that any foreign assistance must be orchestrated through Iraq's government. "It sends a clear message that ultimately Iraq is in control of its own destiny," Obama said.
Obama also said al-Abadi's commitment to include all sectarian factions in Iraq's government is critical.
"None of this works unless there is a perception among all the parties involved — Shia, Sunni, Kurd and others — inside of Iraq that this is an inclusive government that is listening to the voices of all the people, and including them in decision-making. The fact that Prime Minister Abadi is doing that makes our job and the job of the coalition easier," Obama said.
Obama said U.S. coordination with Iraqi forces had improved consistently as Iraq's military has improved. He said U.S. air support for the mission there continues to be critically important.
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