WASHINGTON, June 20 (Xinhua) -- When the last batch of U.S. soldiers left Iraq in 2011, President Barack Obama might have never thought of sending them back.
But at a White House press conference on Thursday, Obama announced his decision to dispatch up to 300 military advisers to the embattled country, where he said the United States is "prepared to take targeted and precise military action" if necessary.
The decision came as insurgents, spearheaded by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), were scoring sweeping victories across the country, overrunning several major cities in the northern and western parts of Iraq.
The lightning gains by the insurgents have sparked concerns that the sectarian clashes could descend into civil war and even spread to other countries in the Middle East.
POSSIBLE MILITARY ACTION
The 300 military advisers, made up of special forces, will be focused on assessing how to best train, advise and support Iraqi security forces, rather than being directly involved in the fight, according to Obama.
While emphasizing that American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, the president said he was "prepared to take targeted and precise military action, if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it."
In another effort to boost the support to Iraqi forces, the United States is prepared to create joint operation centers in Baghdad and northern Iraq to share intelligence and coordinate planning to confront the threat, Obama said.
Washington has in recent days positioned additional military assets in the region. It is reported that manned and unmanned U.S. aircraft are now flying over Iraq 24 hours a day to collect intelligence.
Even as Obama left the door open for possible military action, he said there was "no military solution inside of Iraq," and called for peaceful political ways to solve the crisis, saying the "best and most effective response... will ultimately involve partnerships where local forces, like Iraqis, take the lead."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has long been criticized by the United States for not giving the country's Sunni minority a greater role in the Shiite-dominated government, which some think has contributed to the unrest.
Leading U.S. lawmakers have called for Maliki's resign, a call that Obama did not join during the conference, saying, "it's not our job to choose Iraq's leaders."
But the president did emphasize 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."
"The United States will not pursue military options that support one sect inside of Iraq at the expense of another," he added.
The president also said he was sending Secretary of State John Kerry to Europe and the Middle East this weekend for talks which he hoped would stabilize the region.
As for the role Iran might play in the Iraq crisis, Obama warned that if Iran was coming in solely as an armed force on behalf of the Shi'ites, it would probably worsen the situation.
"Our view is that Iran can play a constructive role if it is helping to send the same message to the Iraqi government that we're sending," Obama said.
That message is that Iraq will only hold together if it becomes an "inclusive" nation where the interests of Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds are all respected.
Despite Obama's rationale that U.S. involvement in Iraq was to safeguard the national security interest of the United States, going back to war is certainly the last thing both Obama and the U.S. public want.
The brutal eight years of war cost tens of thousands of lives, including at least 100,000 civilians. Nearly a quarter of Iraqi youths are unemployed, giving terrorist groups more opportunity to expand their power.
For the United States, the Iraq war proved to be far longer and costlier than imagined. Almost 4,500 U.S. soldiers lost their lives, and it cost nearly 1 trillion U.S. dollars.
To stop a possible new war, an anti-war coalition in Los Angeles on Thursday announced plans to stage a nationwide anti-war rally over the upcoming weekend.
"The present civil conflict in Iraq is a result of the U.S. war and occupation, which destroyed the Iraqi government and divided the country along sectarian lines in order to conquer it," said Brian Becker, national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition.
"Now is the time for a massive grassroots opposition to stop an escalating U.S. war in Iraq," he added.
U.S. ready to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq: Obama
WASHINGTON, June 19 (Xinhua) -- The United States is prepared to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to train, advise and support Iraqi forces in their fight against insurgency, U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday.
While reiterating that American forces would not be returning to combat in Iraq, Obama said the U.S. is ready to take "targeted" and "precise" military actions "if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it." Full story
Battles continue in Iraq, security forces repel attack on oil refinery
BAGHDAD, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Fierce clashes between Iraqi security forces and Sunni militant groups continued in several Iraqi provinces on Thursday, as government troops repelled multiple militant attacks on a major oil refinery in Salahudin province, security sources said.
The security forces, with air support, fought back several militant offensives against the oil refinery of Baiji, located some 200 km north of the capital Baghdad, Lieutenant General Qassim Atta and security spokesman of Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki said at a news conference in Baghdad. Full story
Kerry says U.S. intervention not to help Iraqi PM
WASHINGTON, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Secretary of State John Kerry stressed on Thursday that any U.S. intervention in Iraq to help stem the advances by Islamic militants is not meant to support the country's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
"This is not about al-Maliki," the top American envoy told NBC' s "Today" program in an interview. "Let me stress, what the United States is doing is about Iraq. And nothing that the president decides to do is going to be focused specifically on Prime Minister al-Maliki." Full story