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Obama welcomes new Iraqi leaders as 'step forward'

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 11, 2014 at 6:55 pm •  Published: August 11, 2014
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CHILMARK, Mass. (AP) — President Barack Obama welcomed new leadership in Iraq as "a promising step forward" Monday amid a political and security crisis in Baghdad, saying the only lasting solution is the formation of an inclusive government.

Obama pointedly did not mention Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki but clearly was nudging the incumbent clinging to power to step aside as he urged Iraqi political leaders to work peacefully through a political transition.

"The United States stands ready to support a government that addresses the needs and grievances of all Iraqi people," Obama said outside his rented vacation home on Martha's Vineyard, where he earlier huddled with advisers for updates on events on the other side of the world.

Obama's remarks came as the U.S. conducted more airstrikes against the Islamic State in northern Iraq as Yazidis trapped by the militant's advance were escaping. "Our aircraft remain positioned to strike any terrorist forces around the mountain who threaten the safety of these families," Obama said.

In Washington, Lt. Gen. William Mayville, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the 15 targeted strikes have slowed the Islamic State's advance but done little to degrade the militants' capacity as a fighting force.

"In the immediate areas where we've focused our strikes we've had a very temporary effect," Mayville said. "I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained — or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of the threat posed by" the Islamic State group.

Amid the security threat loomed a potential political crisis. New Iraqi President Fouad Massoum selected the deputy parliament speaker, Haider al-Ibadi, as al-Maliki's replacement. Al-Maliki accused Massoum of carrying out "a coup against the constitution and the political process" with al-Ibadi's nomination. Al-Maliki insisted he should maintain his position as prime minister.

The U.S. is backing the new leadership. Obama said he and Vice President Joe Biden called al-Ibadi Monday to urge him to form a new cabinet as soon as possible.

"The only lasting solution is for Iraqis to come together and form an inclusive government," Obama said in brief remarks to reporters.

The Obama administration has begun directly providing weapons to Kurdish forces who have started to make gains against the Islamic State, senior U.S. officials said, but the aid has so far been limited to automatic rifles and ammunition.

Previously, the U.S. sold arms in Iraq only to the government in Baghdad, which has largely failed in recent years to transfer them to the Kurdish forces in the north, American officials have said. Baghdad made some transfers with American help in recent days, since U.S. airstrikes began to support Kurdish forces fighting off the Islamic State advance toward the northern city of Irbil.

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