WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama hailed the recapture of Mosul dam Monday as a “major step forward” as a barrage of U.S. airstrikes helped Kurdish and Iraqi forces score the biggest victory of its counteroffensive against the Islamic State militants.
Obama also urged the badly fractured and largely dysfunctional Iraqi government to move quickly to forge a united front and give hope to Sunni tribes who’ve been marginalized. Obama noted last week’s decision by Nouri al-Maliki to step down as Iraq’s prime minister, a move that raised hopes a new government could roll back Iraq’s powerful Sunni insurgency and prevent the country from splitting apart.
“They’ve got to get this done because the wolf’s at the door,” the president said.
Speaking from the White House briefing room, Obama said he was pleased the United States had given Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish militia an important boost in Mosul. But he stressed the importance of political progress and said it is imperative that Iraq become a viable partner for the U.S.
The U.S. will continue to assist Iraqi security forces with a limited military campaign designed to protect American personnel and facilities and to alleviate humanitarian crises created by Islamic State militants, he said.
He added that it is not for the U.S. to be a surrogate air force for Baghdad and it is up to Iraqis to create a sustainable peace.
“We’ve got a national security interest in making sure our people are protected and in making sure that a savage group that seems willing to slaughter people for no rhyme or reason other than they have not kowtowed — that a group like that is contained because ultimately it can pose a threat to us,” Obama told reporters.
The Islamic extremists captured the Mosul dam on Aug. 7. Obama said if the dam on the Tigris River had been breached it could have had catastrophic consequences and endangered American Embassy personnel in Baghdad.