Obama: Iraq will need additional US assistance

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President Barack Obama says Iraq will need additional assistance from the U.S. to push back an Islamic insurgency.

The president did not specify what type of assistance he is willing to provide. But Obama says the White House has not ruled anything out. He says he is watching the situation in Iraq with concern and wants to ensure that jihadists don't get a foothold.

Iraq has been beset by violence since the last American forces withdrew in late 2011. The violence escalated this week with an al-Qaida-inspired group capturing two key Sunni-dominated cities this week and vowing to march on to Baghdad.

Obama spoke following an Oval Office meeting with visiting Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Al-Qaeda-inspired militants vowed to march on Iraq's capital after capturing two cities in the northern part of the country this week.

The aggressive militant group known as ISIS is continuing its offensive in northern Iraq and is now vowing to march on Baghdad.

So far, the Iraqi government has appeared powerless to stop it, with the prime minister calling on average citizens to take up arms to retake the cities here in northern Iraq. They are also calling on the United States government to intervene militarily with manned aircraft or drones, along with intelligence.

The Iraqi government is losing control of large part of northern and central Iraq. Some Iraqi security forces are fighting, but most appear to be stripping off their uniforms in the streets, abandoning vehicles and weapons.

They're retreating from Islamic extremists, an off-shoot of al-Qaeda, who took over Iraq's second largest city Mosul and then overnight advanced much further, occupying large parts of Tikrit and Beiji.

Civilians are fleeing the area. Officials say up to 500,000 are displaced already.

The United States fought a nearly decade-long war, costing thousands of American lives and a trillion dollars for this not to happen. Many of the radicals are the same insurgents American troops battled for years. Now they're aligned with militants from Syria, creating a single front.

Their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was once held by American forces. Some say he's the real heir to Osama bin Laden. The US has a $10 million bounty for him.

Sunnis ruled Iraq for 13 centuries until the US invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, ushering in a Shiite regime. The Sunnis want their country back, and they have strong feelings against the Shiite government which has excluded them from power. There are no American troops around anymore to stop them.

ISIS - the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria - is not just a danger to the region. Most of the fighters are anti-American and don't see their battle as being limited to this region.

The group is vowing to march on to Baghdad. But the capital doesn't appear to be in imminent danger of a similar assault. Baghdad would be a much harder target for the militants because of its large Shiite population. So far, fighters from the group have stuck to the Sunni heartland.