- (Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
President Barack Obama said Friday that the U.S. will not send troops to Iraq, where Islamic radicals affiliated with al-Qaeda have already taken over the second largest city and are closing in on the capital of Baghdad.
But he has asked his national security team "to prepare a range of other options" that could help support Iraq security forces, he said. He'll be reviewing those options over the next few days.
"Any action that we may take to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces has to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq's leaders to set aside sectarian differences, to promote stability, and account for the legitimate interests of all of Iraq's communities and to continue to build the capacity of an effective security force," Obama said. "We can't do it for them. In the absence of this type of this type of political effort, short-term military action, including any assistance we might provide, won't succeed."
Jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq group overran the city of Mosul and much of the Nineveh province earlier this week, forcing close to half a million people to flee, including many Christians.
Iraqi forces reportedly fled their posts, leaving behind uniforms, weapons and armored vehicles. The militants are said to be targeting Baghdad next.
ISIS, which is also attempting to gain control in war-torn Syria, has declared that it wants to establish an Islamic state over the region. The jihadists formed in the wake of the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, when his regime was toppled by the U.S. government.
While White House spokesman Jay Carney said earlier that airstrikes are a possible option as a response to the Islamists, he made clear that the White House is "not contemplating ground troops" in Iraq.
Fox News noted that the new attacks are the biggest threat to Iraq's stability since the U.S. withdrew its forces at the end of 2011.
A U.S. senior official said that Americans are being evacuated from a base in Balad, the site of one of the largest training missions in Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is reportedly operating as usual, however.
Christians, who over the past decade have fled from violence in Iraq and shrunk from 1.5 million to an estimated 200,000-400,000, have expressed grave concern at the developments.
"If this continues, Mosul soon will be emptied of Christians. This could be the last migration of Christians from Mosul," a representative of persecution watchdog group Open Doors in Iraq said.
"The Islamist terrorists want to make Iraq a 'Muslim only' nation and as a result they want all Christians out," commented Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. David Curry. "The situation for Christians has deteriorated each year over the past 10 years. Iraqi Christians have faced kidnappings, threats and even death for being followers of Jesus. And they have little faith in their government to provide security as we see in the tragedy unfolding this week."
A Dominican priest located in Mosul described on Tuesday the situation as "horrible and catastrophic." Fr. Najeeb Michaeel noted that the priory of Mar Behnam and other churches had fallen into the hands of the rebels, who are threatening believers with death.
"They have assassinated adults and children. The bodies have been left in the streets and in the houses by the hundreds, without pity. The regular forces and the army have also fled the city, along with the governor," the priest lamented.