Wrapping up a weekend away with his family, President Barack Obama was returning to Washington Monday faced with an impending choice on how to act to stop violent insurgents bringing chaos to Iraq.
The White House said Obama got several updates on the crisis in phone calls from National Security Adviser Susan Rice during his weekend stay with his wife, daughter Malia and friends in the Palm Springs area. Obama said as he left for the trip Friday that he told his national security team to come up with options for U.S. assistance to deal with the worst instability in Iraq since the U.S. withdrawal in 2011.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Rice’s telephone briefings included updates on developments in Iraq, options being discussed for action and the movement of some staff out of the embassy in Baghdad amid the threat posed by the al-Qaida inspired insurgency. The calls came amid Obama’s trip to Orange County Saturday to raise money and deliver a commencement address at the University of California, Irvine, plus rounds of golf back in the desert resort town of Rancho Mirage.
Obama golfed with aides Sunday at Porcupine Creek, a course owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison. Saturday gave him a chance to return to the Sunnylands estate where he’s visited three times in the past year. Obama stayed at Sunnylands in two previous visits to the area, but this time was hosted by White House decorator Michael Smith and his partner, James Costos, the American ambassador to Spain.
Obama said Friday that he would take several days to review a wide range of options for action in Iraq, although he ruled out the possibility of sending in American ground troops. Administration officials said other options being weighed include strikes using drones or manned aircraft, as well as boosts in surveillance and intelligence gathering, including satellite coverage and other monitoring efforts.
Obama said the violence “should be a wake-up call” to the Iraqi government to improve sectarian relations and improve its security force. “We can’t do it for them. And in the absence of this type of political effort, short-term military action, including any assistance we might provide, won’t succeed,” Obama said.
Iraqi leaders have been pleading with the U.S. for additional help to combat the insurgency for more than a year. While the U.S. has sold Iraq military equipment, the Obama administration has resisted drone strikes.
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