President Barack Obama committed to bolster training and other assistance to Iraq in the battle against Islamic State while urging the government there to step up and broaden recruitment for security forces.
Obama said the U.S. doesn’t yet “have a complete strategy” to accelerate recruitment and training of Iraqi forces. Islamic State’s capture of the city of Ramadi exposed weaknesses in the Iraqi army, and Obama said the U.S. and its allies are trying to help build up the country’s defenses.
“One of the things that we’re still seeing is, in Iraq, places where we’ve got more training capacity than we have recruits,” Obama said Monday during a news conference at the end of the Group of Seven summit in Germany.
Obama said all of the nations in the international coalition against the Islamic State agreed to commit more resources to training “if they feel like that additional work is being taken advantage of.”
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced that Britain will deploy an additional 125 members of its armed forces to train Iraqis in dealing with improvised bombs and general logistics. There are already 150 U.K. personnel training Iraqi forces.
Obama, who met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi Monday on the sidelines of the summit, said success depends on the Iraqi government drawing in all the country’s factions, particularly the disenchanted Sunni minority. In comments before the meeting, he called the Iraqi leader “refreshingly honest” about the work that needs to be done.
While the U.S. president said Iraq still faces significant challenges, he repeated assurances that he views Islamic State’s capture of Ramadi as a “short-term tactical gain” for the extremist group. “Ultimately it will be defeated,” he said of Islamic State, a view echoed by Abadi.
White House officials said Abadi’s meeting with Obama and other G-7 leaders was a chance to assess progress of the counter-Islamic State campaign in Iraq.
Abadi told reporters he is working on “including all components of Iraqi people” in the government and the fight against the militants.
The president has faced questions about his approach to fighting the terrorist group since it seized the Syrian city of Palmyra and the Iraqi city of Ramadi in recent weeks. The taking of Ramadi, about 68 miles (109 kilometers) west of Baghdad, is one of the militants’ biggest tactical successes since they swept across northern Iraq a year ago.
The U.S. and its allies have supported the Iraqi forces with airstrikes and with training and equipment. Obama has called the loss of Ramadi a tactical setback that’s part of the ebb and flow of the war.
Saleem al-Jubouri, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament and the country’s highest-ranking Sunni politician, said the U.S. must press the Shiite-dominated government to bring more Sunni forces into the fight.
Legislation to create a national guard that would bring Sunni and Shiite militias under the control of the government has been slowed in parliament by sectarian rivalries.
Jubouri told reporters in Washington on Monday that those forces can become a focal point of the battle against Islamic State.
“It is possible, very possible, to have forces composed of tribes that are trained and equipped and receive all the support they need, and can perform the task of fighting Daesh,” al-Jubouri said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “The U.S. can definitely very clearly help in this respect.”
Obama endorsed the goal of completing the national guard legislation so that more Sunni forces can be brought to the fight. Many of the Sunni tribes are prepared to fight and have been successful in rebuffing Islamic State, he said. Integrating them into the Iraqi forces “has not been happening as fast as it needs to.”
Leaders attending the G-7 summit in the Bavarian alps on Sunday and Monday focused part of their agenda on counterterrorism and other global threats. Along with Abadi, Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari was invited to discuss efforts to counter Boko Haram in his country.
Obama said a particular concern is stemming the flow of foreign fighters headed to Iraq to join Islamic State.
“We’re taking a lot of them off the battlefield, but if they’re being replenished, it doesn’t solve the problem in the long term,” he said. He said Turkey, which shares a border with Syria and Iraq, hasn’t “fully ramped up” efforts to close the border.