With tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians and ethnic minorities facing potential slaughter by Islamist militants, the White House on Thursday wouldnâ€™t say how â€” or even if â€” it will take further action to prevent bloodshed.
Pressed on whether itâ€™s in Americaâ€™s core interest to stop the looming genocide of tens of thousands of Yazidis trapped on a mountain in northern Iraq and surrounded by armed members of the terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), White House press secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama still is weighing the situation.
The careful posturing by the administration came on a day of biting criticism from an influential House Republican, who hammered Mr. Obama for failing to follow through on a past promise to strengthen Washingtonâ€™s ability to prevent genocide around the world.
In a letter to the president Thursday, Rep. Frank Wolfe of Virginia accused the administration of ignoring genocidal atrocities now taking place against both Iraqi Christians and Yazidis â€” an ethno-religious sect, whose traditions encompass a range of Islamic and ancient Persian beliefs.
Mr. Wolfe reminded Mr. Obama of a 2012 speech that the president gave at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial where he had said a newly created â€œAtrocities Prevention Boardâ€ would make the deterrence of genocide and mass atrocities â€œa core national security interest and core moral responsibility.â€
â€œTragically, mass atrocities are happening again today â€” and on your watch,â€ Mr. Wolfe wrote in the letter. â€œGenocide is taking place today in northern Iraq, where the Christian and Yezidi populations are being exterminated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There is no question that systematic and targeted brutality is occurring.â€
â€œâ€¦The silence from you and your administration is deafening,â€ the congressman added.
The letter hung in the backdrop of the administrationâ€™s daily press briefing on Thursday afternoon, with Mr. Earnest asserting that the question of whether Washington will step in and attempt to stop genocide occurring in the world is something â€œevaluated on a case by case basis.â€
â€œThe question is how the United States can intervene to mitigate that situation. Those kinds of decisions are the decisions that are made on a case-by-case basis,â€ Mr. Earnest told reporters.
ISIL, the terrorist group which has plunged Iraq back into chaos and left the government in Baghdad struggling to keep the nation from falling apart, increasingly has taken aim at Christians and Yazidis, a Kurdish ethnic religious minority. In recent days, Christian villages have been raided by ISIL militants.
As of Thursday afternoon, tens of thousands of Yazidis remain trapped in the Sinjar Mountain area in northern Iraq without food or water and surrounded by ISIL fighters.
Mr. Earnest called ISILâ€™s tactics â€œdisgustingâ€ and â€œbarbaric,â€ but wouldnâ€™t say whether the president is on the verge of intervening militarily, either with air strikes or through other means.
â€œThe and cold and calculated manner in which ISIL has targeted defenseless Iraqis â€¦ solely because of their ethnic and religious identity demonstrates a callous disregard for human rights,â€ he said. â€œThe U.S. government, as well as the U.S. military, is supporting the ongoing efforts of the Iraqi officials and Kurdish officials to address this urgent humanitarian crisis that exists. It is a situation we are deeply concerned about and closely monitoring.â€
Earlier this year, Mr. Obama sent U.S. military personnel to Baghdad to guard the U.S. Embassy. He also dispatched 300 military advisers to assist Iraqâ€™s armed forces in their fight against ISIL.