President Barack Obama said the U.S. will continue “limited” airstrikes against Islamic State militants, which have stopped their advance on the city of Erbil and helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces recapture a key dam at Mosul.
“We continue to see important progress” against the insurgents, Obama said today at the White House. He said the U.S. was working to pull together an international coalition to support humanitarian relief operations in northern Iraq.
Obama, who pressured former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to step down, is seeking quick appointment of a new Iraqi government under Prime Minister-Designate Haidar Al-Abadi as a stabilizing step for the region for both Iraq and Syria.
The future of Iraq depends on formation of a “credible Iraqi government,” he said. “They’ve got to get this done because the wolf’s at the door.”
Obama spoke at the White House after meeting this morning with Vice President Joe Biden and members of the White House National Security Council for an update on Iraq. Obama flew back to Washington early this morning for two days at the White House in the middle of a two-week vacation on Marthaâs Vineyard.
Over the past three days, the U.S. conducted 35 air strikes against Islamic State militants near the Mosul dam, according to a statement today from Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. The attacks involved fighter, bomber and drone aircraft.
Kurdish and Iraqi forces regained control of the dam, Iraq’s largest, from Islamic State Sunni-Muslim insurgents today. Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga, have forced militants from the dam and now need to clear a 2 kilometer stretch of mines and bombs, Kurdish spokesman Halogard Hikmat said in a phone interview.
Obama said a breach of the dam would be “catastrophic.”
Islamic State fighters had taken the dam using U.S.-made weapons seized from fleeing Iraqi troops. Obama authorized air strikes following the dam seizure and a move toward Erbil, where the U.S. has military and diplomatic personnel based.
The militants retain control of oil infrastructure in Iraq and eastern Syria, funding their self-proclaimed caliphate, or state based on the group’s hard-line interpretation of Islamic law, with the revenue.
The Kurdish Regional Government is dependent on oil exports to Turkey, Iraq Kurd Economy Minister Rebaz Mohammed said today in interview with Bloomberg TV.
News that the dam had been retaken help push oil prices down with Brent for October settlement sliding $1.93, or 1.9 percent, to $101.60 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. That was the lowest close since June 26, 2013.
Four U.S. officials, all speaking on the condition of anonymity because intelligence on Iraq is classified, said that recapturing the Mosul dam is unlikely to produce the momentum needed to defeat Islamic State in other areas of Iraq.
The Kurdish peshmerga who retook the dam are already stretched thin defending their territory, including the city of Kirkuk and its oil field.
Separately today, Obama praised the destruction by U.S. troops of Syria’s declared chemical weapons cache.
“It further advances our collective goal to ensure that the Assad regime cannot use its chemical arsenal against the Syrian people and sends a clear message that the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences and will not be tolerated by the international community,” Obama said in a statement.
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