President Barack Obama yesterday said US airstrikes had destroyed arms that Islamic State militants could have used against Iraqi Kurds, but warned there was no quick fix to a crisis that threatens to tear Iraq apart.
Speaking the day after US warplanes hit militants in Iraq, Obama said it would take more than bombs to restore stability, and criticised Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government for failing to empower Sunnis.
“I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks. This is going to take some time,” Obama told a news conference in Washington.
Islamic State has captured wide swathes of northern Iraq since June, executing non-Sunni Muslim captives, displacing tens of thousands of people and drawing the first US air strikes in the region since Washington withdrew troops in 2011.
After routing Kurdish forces this week, the militants are just 30 minutes’ drive from Arbil, the Iraqi Kurdish capital, which up to now has been spared the sectarian bloodshed that has scarred other parts of Iraq for a decade.
The US president said Washington would continue to provide military assistance and advice to Baghdad and Kurdish forces, but stressed repeatedly the importance of Iraq, which is a major oil exporter, forming its own inclusive government.
Maliki has been widely criticised for authoritarian and sectarian policies that have alienated Sunnis and prompted some to support the insurgency.
“I think this a wake-up call for a lot of Iraqis inside of Baghdad recognising that we’re going to have to rethink how we do business if we’re going to hold our country together,” Obama said, before departing on a two-week vacation.
Employees of foreign oil firms have been leaving Arbil, and Kurds have snapped up AK-47 assault rifles in arms markets for fear of imminent attack, although these have proved ineffective against the superior firepower of the Islamic State fighters.
Given the Islamic State threat, a source in the Kurdistan Regional Government said it had received extra supplies of heavy weaponry from the Baghdad federal government “and other governments” in the past few days, but declined to elaborate.
In their latest advance through northern Iraq, the Islamic State seized a fifth oil field, several towns and Iraq’s biggest dam, sending tens of thousands fleeing for their lives.
An engineer at the Mosul dam said that Islamic State fighters had brought in engineers to repair an emergency power line to the city, Iraq’s biggest in the north, that had been cut off four days ago, causing power outages and water shortages.