Obama Sends Military Advisers to Iraq

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Up to 300 Americans Will Aid Security Forces; President Presses Baghdad to Form Inclusive Government.

President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered up to 300 members of U.S. special-operations forces to Iraq, while ruling out immediate airstrikes against Sunni extremists and stepping up the pressure on Baghdad to form a government that bridges the country’s ethnic and religious divisions.

Mr. Obama announced his plans at a news conference after he met with his national security team. He spent much of his public appearance focused on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite whom U.S. officials and lawmakers blame for lighting the fuse of the crisis through policies detrimental to the country’s minority Sunni population.

Mr. Obama also made clear, as have other U.S. officials this week, he isn’t opposed to Iraqis replacing Mr. Maliki, whose government has struggled to counter advances by militant Sunni fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

“Now, it’s not the place for the United States to choose Iraq’s leaders,” Mr. Obama said. “It is clear, though, that only leaders that can govern with an inclusive agenda are going to be able to truly bring the Iraqi people together and help them through this crisis.”

Mr. Obama questioned whether Mr. Maliki is such a leader. “The test is before him and other Iraqi leaders as we speak,” Mr. Obama said. “Regardless of what’s happened in the past, right now is a moment where the fate of Iraq hangs in the balance.”

A key mechanism for tamping down the Sunni revolt, said Mr. Obama and other administration officials, is the swift formation of a new government following the ratification of April’s parliamentary elections.

“It is absolutely vital that the government-formation process that is now under way be effected as rapidly as possible,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday at the State Department. “That will be the greatest single step taken to have an impact on the outcome of this current conflict.”

As he outlined his plans, Mr. Obama stressed that the U.S. response doesn’t mark a return to an unpopular war.

“American forces won’t be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region and American interests,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s strategy includes increased intelligence and surveillance capabilities in Iraq to help track ISIS, and special-operations forces who will “assess how we can best train, advise and support Iraqi security forces going forward.”

As part of that effort, the U.S. will create joint operations centers in Baghdad and Northern Iraq, although senior administration officials said the U.S. special operations forces won’t be confined to these areas as they conduct their mission.

The U.S. is taking steps to further secure its embassy in Baghdad and ensure the safety of American personnel inside Iraq, Mr. Obama said.

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