Obama Promises Iraq’s al-Abadi $200 Million in Humanitarian AidToluse Olorunnipa
President Barack Obama told Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi that the U.S. will commit $200 million more in humanitarian aid to assist Iraqis displaced by the battle against Islamic State militants.
The two leaders met for the first time at the White House Tuesday as Abadi seeks more U.S. arms and support and Obama tries to show that his approach to Middle East conflicts -- training foreign fighters, using airstrikes, and keeping U.S. troops out of ground battles -- is beginning to work in Iraq.
With Iraqi security forces, backed by U.S. air power, pushing Islamic State fighters out of Tikrit and beginning an offensive in Anbar province, administration officials have begun to make claims that the tide is turning in the fight against the militants.
“We are making serious progress in pushing back ISIL out if Iraqi territory,” Obama told reporters as he wrapped up the meeting in the Oval Office, using an acronym for the Sunni terrorist group. He added that the fight will be long and “success will not occur overnight.”
Obama said he and Abadi “discussed extensively” Iran’s involvement in the fight against Islamic State. He said Abadi told him that Iraq welcomes the help but that he answers only to the Iraqi people.
Abadi, speaking through a translator, said the U.S. assistance won’t go to waste. Iraq will strengthen its democracy and its counterterrorism campaign, he said.
“The American people have made great sacrifices for the people of Iraq,” Abadi said.
The offensive in Tikrit has been the Iraqi government’s most significant victory against Islamic State, which seized nearly a third of the country, including major cities where the security forces dropped their weapons and fled. The U.S. has sent about 3,000 troops to retrain the security forces and help them take back territory.
The U.S. and its international partners have also conducted about 3,000 airstrikes, including a recent campaign that helped the Iraqi forces overcome a stalemate in Tikrit earlier this month. The offensive in Tikrit, which is seen as a dress rehearsal for a critical battle in militant-controlled Mosul, stalled last month as Iraq relied on Iranian-backed militia.
The U.S. stepped in on assurances that the Iranian-backed militia would pull back from the field.
Obama praised Abadi for reaching out to both Sunni and Shiite leaders to form a unified government that has all of Iraq’s sects playing a role, which he called “a significant change from some past practices” by previous governments.
The Defense Department said Monday that about 25 to 30 percent of Iraqi territory seized by Islamic State has been recovered by coalition forces.
“The combination of coalition air power and Iraqi ground forces are having an effect on the enemy’s ability to hold territory and to have freedom of maneuver,” Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said.
Abadi is seeking the additional support as the Iraqi economy suffers amid declining oil prices. Iraq faces a deficit of about $21 billion.
“Iraq is not only facing security challenges but it’s also facing financial challenges,” said Sinan Adnan, an Iraq analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington policy research organization that supports an aggressive U.S. foreign policy.
“This visit shows that it is not too late for the U.S. and that the U.S. can actually still play an important role in Iraq. And the US can actually still counter Iranian influence in Iraq,” he said.
The U.S. already has spent more than $2.4 billion to fight Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the past year, the Pentagon said last month.
“Since the fall of 2014, the United States has delivered over 100 million rounds of ammunition, 62,000 small arms systems, 1,700 Hellfire missiles,” Vice President Joe Biden, said in an April 9 speech on Iraq at National Defense University in Washington.
The U.S. delivered 250 mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, known as MRAPs, to Iraq in December, he said. “And 50 additional MRAPs with mine rollers will begin transfer to Iraq this week.”