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Obama vows to continue Iraq air strikes 'if necessary'

Aug. 9, 2014 4:36 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 11, 2014 12:16 P.M.)
ARBIL, Iraq (AFP) -- President Barack Obama on Saturday vowed to continue air strikes against militants in Iraq if needed to protect US diplomats and military advisors.

Speaking in his weekly address, Obama said that he had authorized the strikes in Iraq to protect US personnel serving in the northern city of Arbil.

"And, if necessary, that's what we will continue to do," he said.

The president was due to speak about the situation once again during an address at 10:25 am on the South Lawn of the White House before he leaves for his summer vacation at Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Obama said he had also authorized a "humanitarian effort" to help displaced civilians trapped by Islamic State extremists on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.

The United States has a strategic interest in halting the militants' advances, but Obama stressed that it would not serve as "the air force of Iraqi Shiites or any other faction."

"We do have a strategic interest in pushing back ISIL," Obama said in an interview with The New York Times, using the group's former name Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

"We're not going to let them create some caliphate through Syria and Iraq, but we can only do that if we know that we've got partners on the ground who are capable of filling the void."

Helping trapped minorities

Thousands of Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking minority, fled their homes when militants attacked the town of Sinjar and many have since been stranded in the nearby mountain range with no food and water.

"The thousands -- perhaps tens of thousands -- of Iraqi men, women and children who fled to that mountain were starving and dying of thirst. The food and water we airdropped will help them survive," Obama said.

"I've also approved targeted American airstrikes to help Iraqi forces break the siege and rescue these families."

Obama emphasized that the United States "cannot and should not intervene every time there's a crisis in the world.

"But when there's a situation like the one on this mountain -- when countless innocent people are facing a massacre, and when we have the ability to help prevent it -- the United States can't just look away," he said.

"That's not who we are. We're Americans. We act. We lead. And that's what we're going to do on that mountain."

But Obama vowed that as commander in chief of the US armed forces, he would not allow the US to be dragged into another war in Iraq, from which it pulled its troops in 2011.

"American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there's no American military solution to the larger crisis there," he said.

"We will protect our citizens. We will work with the international community to address this humanitarian crisis. We'll help prevent these terrorists from having a permanent safe haven from which to attack America."

Obama also renewed his call for reconciliation among Iraq's increasingly divided religious, ethnic, and political factions.

The first US bombings struck IS positions and at least one convoy of vehicles carrying militants west of Arbil.

Cargo planes escorted by combat jets made a second air drop of food and water Saturday to the civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar, the Pentagon said.
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