NEW: Official: Contractors evacuated from Iraq base "due to security concerns"
Iraqi foreign minister says takeover of Mosul is a "major security setback"
The Iraqi army is now in full control of the city of Tikrit, state media reports
U.S. considering host of options in Iraq, but not ground troops
As radical Islamist militants surged through Iraq – and threatened its capital – U.S. President Barack Obama conceded the turbulent situation demanded significant assistance immediately and over the long-term for the Baghdad-based central government.
“It’s going to need more help from us, and it’s going to need more help from the international community,” Obama said Thursday. “… I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothoold in either Iraq or Syria.”
The jihadists he is referring to belong to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which wants to establish an Islamic caliphate, or state, in the region. It’s already had significant success to date in Syria, where it has been engaged in the civil war against President Bashar al-Assad’s government, and in Iraq, where its fighters recently took over the nation’s second-largest city of Mosul.
On Thursday, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani purportedly could be heard in an audio recording posted on the group’s media website. CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of the 17-minute audio statement or the time of its recording.
The voice implores fighters not to “give up a hand’s width of ground you’ve liberated,” as well as to expand the campaign.
“Continue your march as the battle is not yet raging,” the man says. “It will rage in Baghdad and Karbala. So be ready for it.”
The militants’ march has caught the world’s attention. That includes the United States, which led the 2003 invasion that resulted in the toppling of longtime leader Saddam Hussein. Since then, Iraq has seen instability and violence, though none, in recent years, rivals what is happening now.
As to what Washington may do to combat the Islamists, U.S. officials discussed bolstering ongoing efforts to send arms, equipment and intelligence information to help Iraq and its military.
Air strikes are among the options being considered, White House spokesman Jay Carney said. But there won’t be a repeat of a large U.S. troop presence on Iraqi soil.
“We are not contemplating ground troops,” Carney said. “I want to be clear about that.”
Iraq government says it’s taken back Tikrit
After days of news about its sometimes sudden, surprising defeats, Iraq’s government claimed a key victory on Thursday.
Tikrit, Hussein’s hometown, was under full control of the military Thursday, state-run Iraqiya TV said. Just a day earlier, it appeared largely to have fallen to the militant fighters.
The Iraqi military carried out airstrikes overnight, targeting the al-Ghazlany military base, just five kilometers south of Mosul where a group of ISIS militants are believed to be based, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said in a statement Thursday.
Speaking in London, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told CNN on Thursday that the government has “taken a number of steps to push back the terrorists” but that the takeover of Mosul had been a “major security setback.”
He said the Iraqi army in the city had “collapsed, basically,” and commanders were fleeing north.
“The government has to take a … serious look at the makeup and the doctrine of the new Iraqi armed forces. You cannot run a country with such commanders.”
But Zebari also said there were “already indications” the militants were pulling out of Mosul, adding that the government was working with Kurdish regional powers to push them out.
His statements were made as footage surfaced on social media sites Thursday purportedly showing ISIS militants parading heavy artillery through Mosul.
Iraqi official: Nobody has called for U.S. troops
Zebari declined to give a clear answer when asked what assistance Iraq had requested from the United States.