Obama, Congress leaders meet on Iraq strategy

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has shifted his focus away from airstrikes in Iraq as an imminent option for slowing the insurgency, in part because there are few clear targets the U.S. could hit, officials say.

Obama has made no final decisions and could ultimately approve limited strikes if stronger targets emerge, the officials say. The CIA and other spy agencies are scrambling to close intelligence gaps in the region and track the movements of key figures in the militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which seized Mosul, Tikrit and other towns in Iraq as parts of the country’s military melted away.

The president and top congressional leaders met at the White House Wednesday afternoon to discuss the deteriorating security situation. The relentless violence marks the greatest threat to Iraq’s stability since the U.S. military withdrew at the end of 2011 after more than eight years of war.

Ahead of the White House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the U.S. had no business sending troops into the midst of what he called Iraq’s civil war.

“It’s time for the Iraqis to resolve it themselves,” said Reid, a Nevada Democrat. Taking on Republicans who have blamed the current violence on the withdrawal of U.S. forces, Reid said, “Those who attack President Obama for bringing our troops home from Iraq are wrong and out of step with the American people. After a decade of war, the American people have had enough.”

Reid was joined at the White House meeting by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Obama has ruled out returning combat troops to Iraq in order to quell the insurgency. However, he has notified Congress that up to 275 armed U.S. forces are being positioned in and around Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. interests.

Obama is also considering sending a small contingent of special operations forces to help train the Iraqi military, officials have said. Other options under consideration include boosting Iraq’s intelligence about the militants and, more broadly, encouraging the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad to become more inclusive.

The U.S. has also made initial overtures to its long-time foe Iran, which has an interest in seeing the Iraqi government survive, though officials have ruled out the possibility of military cooperation with Tehran.

Boehner said Wednesday that he opposed outreach to Iran on grounds that it would send the wrong message to American allies in the Middle East given that the Islamic republic is alleged to have sponsored terrorism in the region. Boehner is among the leaders meeting with Obama at the White House.

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