Assessing his war on ISIS after the group overtook the key Iraqi city of Ramadi, President Barack Obama said in an interview this week his strategy against the terrorists isn’t failing.
“I don’t think we’re losing,” Obama said in the Tuesday interview with The Atlantic magazine, which posted online Thursday.
Calling the fall of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, a “tactical setback,” Obama pinned the blame on poorly trained and organized Iraqi Defense Forces.
“The training of Iraqi security forces, the fortifications, the command-and-control systems are not happening fast enough in Anbar, in the Sunni parts of the country,” he told interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg.
As ISIS takes ground in Sunni-dominated Anbar, the administration has worked to bolster Iraqi security forces, including backing multi-sectarian forces termed “Popular Mobilization Units” that include Shia fighters. Administration officials insist those forces must remain under the control of the central Iraqi government, a proposition that in the past has proven difficult.
Obama said in his interview it was a “source of concern” that Sunni fighters haven’t become more engaged in fighting ISIS.
“We’re going to have to ramp up not just training, but also commitment, and we better get Sunni tribes more activated than they currently have been,” he said.
The White House has previously been wary of empowering Shia militias in Iraq because of their backing by Iran. Regional allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are deeply concerned about what such a move – combined with Obama’s desire to strike a nuclear deal with Iran – would mean for Tehran’s sway in the region.
In the interview, Obama cast his push for a nuclear deal in personal terms, saying his own reputation was on the line.
“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said.