White House says considering options for humanitarian aid in Iraq

by Reuters
Wednesday, 13 August 2014 17:35 GMT

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By Jeff Mason

EDGARTOWN, Mass., Aug 13 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama is considering options to help provide humanitarian assistance to stranded Iraqis but has ruled out using American troops for combat, the White House said on Wednesday.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, speaking to reporters in a briefing, declined to rule out the possibility of using U.S. forces on the ground in a humanitarian role.

The United States added about 130 additional military personnel to northern Iraq this week to develop options to help Iraqi civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. Since June the United States has sent about 700 military personnel to Iraq to protect U.S. diplomats there and take stock of Iraq's military capacity.

"There are a variety of ways in which we can support the safe removal of those people from the mountain," Rhodes said.

"These 130 personnel are not going to be in a combat role in Iraq," he told reporters traveling with the president. "They're there on a temporary basis to make assessments about how to get the population off the mountain."

Among options under consideration are establishing a corridor and airlifts, Rhodes said. In the meantime, the United States will continue airdrops of food and water, he said.

Rhodes called on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to step aside to allow the prime minister-designate, Haider al-Abadi, to take office.

"He needs to respect that process, let it go forward because, frankly, this is not being imposed on anybody from outside of Iraq," Rhodes said.

Maliki has protested his removal, arguing that as leader of the biggest bloc in the parliament elected in April, he should be invited to form a government. But Maliki has been a polarizing figure and has been abandoned by former backers in the United States and Iraq's Shi'ite political and religious establishment.

The White House will be "very glad" to see a new Iraqi government in place with Abadi at the head, Rhodes said. (Reporting by Jeff Mason in Edgartown and Mark Felsenthal in Washington; Writing by Mark Felsenthal and Susan Heavey; Editing by Jim Loney and Bill Trott)

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