In Thursday’s press conference on the Iraq crisis, President Barack Obama declared that it is in the U.S. interest to prevent the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), often known as ISIS, from acquiring any new territory. Since that statement, four more Iraqi towns have fallen to the al-Qaeda offshoot.
When asked whether he was concerned about the possibility of U.S. mission creep in Iraq, the president said:
We also have an interest in making sure that we don’t have a safe haven that continues to grow for ISIL and other extremist jihadist groups who could use that as a base of operations for planning and targeting ourselves, our personnel overseas and eventually the homeland. And you know, if they accumulate more money, they accumulate more ammunition, more military capability, larger numbers, that poses great dangers not just to allies of ours like Jordan, which is very close by, but it also poses, you know, a great danger, potentially, to Europe and ultimately the United States.
He added that the U.S. strategic interests in the region “have to be addressed.”
This echoes a statement Obama made June 13, when asked whether he was reluctant to get the U.S. involved in Iraq. The president said, “We have an interest in making sure that a group like ISIL, which is a vicious organization and has been able to take advantage of the chaos in Syria, that they don’t get a broader foothold.”
Yet the ISIL “foothold” has broadened considerably since the June 19 press conference. The Washington Post reports that ISIL seized control of three towns of strategic significance in western Iraq on Sunday, June 22. By the Daily Mail’s count, they seized four.
Three of these towns, Anah, Rawah, and al-Qaim are located along the Euphrates in western Iraq. Al-Qaim in particular is of strategic importance because of its location on the Iraq–Syria border.
The fourth town is Rutba, located only about 70 miles from the Jordan–Iraq border. The Daily Mail reported on Sunday that the town was negotiating surrender. On Monday, CNN reported that the town was in ISIL hands. Despite that development, a June 22 Jordanian Times story emphasized the security of the Jordan–Iraq border.
According to CNN, about 70 percent of Iraq’s Anbar province, where these cities are located, has fallen into militant hands.