WASHINGTON -- Calling the situation in Iraq "clearly an emergency situation," President Barack Obama Thursday said the Iraqi government will need more help from the United States and the international community to keep jihadists from getting a permanent foothold in the region.
"This is an area that we've been watching with a lot of concern, not just over the last couple of days, but over the last several months, and we've been in close consultation with the Iraqi government," the president said after a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the White House.
Jihadists with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – ISIS – have taken control of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city as well as Tikrit and are pushing south towards Baghdad.
Obama stressed the United States has been working with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to provide military equipment and intelligence to contain the Sunni insurgency in Anbar province in the west as well as in the northwest.
"But what we've seen over the last couple of days indicates the degree to which Iraq is going to need more help," Obama said. "It's going to need more help from us, and it's going to need more help from the international community."
The national security team is working around the clock to identify ways to provide effective assistance to Iraq, the president said. "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," he said.
Internal divisions in Iraq are challenges, the president said. "Frankly," he added, "over the last several years, we have not seen the kind of trust and cooperation develop between moderate Sunni and Shia leaders inside of Iraq, and that accounts in part for some of the weakness of the state, and that then carries over into their military capacity."
Obama said the rapid developments should serve as a wake-up call for the Iraqi government.
"There has to be a political component to this so that Sunni and Shia who care about building a functioning state that can bring about security and prosperity to all people inside of Iraq [can] come together and work diligently against these extremists," he said. "That is going to require concessions on the part of both Shia and Sunni that we haven't seen so far."