President Obama pledged $200 million in humanitarian aid to Iraq Tuesday to help those displaced by Islamic State militants, while making no mention of any further military support that the Iraqi prime minister came seeking at the White House.
Obama made the financial commitment during an Oval Office meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Asked by a reporter whether he would provide helicopters, drones, or other military support that al-Abadi has requested, Obama only said they are continually improving coordination to make sure Iraqi forces are positioned to succeed against Islamic State militants.
The prime minister thanked the United States for its sacrifices in the effort to liberate Iraq and said their cooperation is pushing back terrorism. He said he and Obama discussed plans to liberate the Islamic State strongholds in Anbar province and the city of Mosul, after a successful campaign backed by U.S. airstrikes to push the militants out of Tikrit.
"President Obama and the U.S. administration have expressed full readiness to provide support for our security forces in our effort to liberate all of Iraq," al-Abadi said.
Speaking to reporters at the end of the meeting, Obama said Iraqi forces are getting better equipped and trained since al-Abadi's election seven months ago. He also noted Iraq and a U.S.-led coalition have recovered about one-fourth of the territory the Islamic State had captured in the country.
Obama said the two leaders also discussed Iran's involvement in the fight against militants in Iraq, a major point of concern for the U.S. Shiite militias believed to be backed by Iran are playing a major role in helping the Iraqi military roll back IS advances in the country. "We expect Iran to have an important relationship with Iraq as a close neighbor," Obama said.
But Obama said that any foreign assistance must be orchestrated through Iraq's government and be answerable to Iraq's chain of command. "It sends a clear message that ultimately Iraq is in control of its own destiny,"Obama said.
However, Obama said the process of pushing back the militant group will be long and it was crucial for the U.S. to help support families who have been displaced by the militants. He also said al-Abadi's commitment to include all sectarian factions in Iraq's government is critical.
"None of this works unless there is a perception among all the parties involved — Shia, Sunni, Kurd and others — inside of Iraq that this is an inclusive government that is listening to the voices of all the people, and including them in decision-making. The fact that Prime Minister Abadi is doing that makes our job and the job of the coalition easier," Obama said.
Obama said U.S. coordination with Iraqi forces had improved consistently as Iraq's military has improved. He said U.S. air support for the mission there continues to be critically important.
Al-Abadi told reporters Monday as he left for Washington that an increase in U.S. airstrikes, weapons deliveries and training has helped roll back Islamic State forces, but he needed greater support from the international coalition to "finish" them. "We want to see more," he said.