(Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Thursday threatened U.S. military strikes in Iraq against Sunni Islamist militants who have surged out of the north to menace Baghdad and want to establish their own state in Iraq and Syria.
Iraqi Kurdish forces took advantage of the chaos to take control of the oil hub of Kirkuk as the troops of the Shi’ite-led government abandoned posts, alarming Baghdad’s allies both in the West and in neighboring Shi’ite regional power Iran.
“I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria,” Obama said at the White House when asked whether he was contemplating air strikes. Officials later stressed that ground troops would not be sent in.
Obama was looking at “all options” to help Iraq’s leaders, who took full control when the U.S. occupation ended in 2011. “In our consultations with the Iraqis, there will be some short-term immediate things that need to be done militarily,” he said.