Sixty nations are contributing to the US-led coalition efforts against the Islamic State (IS), according to President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
"At this stage, some 60 nations are contributing to this coalition, including more than 20 coalition members who are represented here today, among them Iraq, Arab nations, Turkey, NATO allies and partners from around the world," Obama said.
He spoke during a press conference at Joint Base Andrews, Virginia, following a meeting with Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and more than 20 foreign chiefs of defense where they discussed coalition efforts against the terror group.
Despite the fact that IS militants are just miles from the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and are about to take over the northern Syrian town of Kobani in spite of US airstrikes, Obama said the coalition has so far recorded several successes, including stopping the terror group’s advance on Irbil and saving civilians from a massacre at Mount Sinjar.
The coalition, which he called "the world against ISIS," (another acronym for the IS group) is focused on the fighting that is taking place in Iraq’s Anbar province, and he mentioned his concerns about the situation in and around Kobani, noting that coalition airstrikes will continue in both areas.
The fight against IS will be a long-term campaign and it’s still in the initial stages, Obama said.
"This is not simply a military campaign. This is not a classic army in which we defeat them on the battlefield and then they ultimately surrender," he said. "What we’re also fighting is an ideological strain of extremism that has taken root in too many parts of the region. We are dealing with sectarianism and political divisions that for too long have been a primary political, organisational rallying point in the region. We’re dealing with economic deprivation and lack of opportunity among too many young people in the region."
IS close in on town 20 miles from Baghdad
As the anti-IS coalition was meeting in Washington on Tuesday, on the ground in Iraq IS fighters closed in on the town of Amriyat al-Fallujah, one of the last towns still controlled by the government in the troubled western province of Anbar, its police chief said.
"IS has come from three directions; we are almost besieged," Aref al-Janabi told AFP by telephone.
"So far we are still standing," he said. "We have some support from tribal fighters, but if Amriyat falls, the battle will move to the gates of Baghdad and Karbala."
Amriyat al-Fallujah lies around 35 kilometres (20 miles) west of Baghdad's limits, and IS fighters would have to capture a significant stretch of government-controlled land before reaching the capital.
The town also lies between the IS bastion of Fallujah, further up the Euphrates River, and the contested area of Jurf al-Sakhr, which commands access to the holy Shiite city of Karbala.
Government forces have suffered a string of bruising military setbacks in Anbar in recent weeks, prompting some officials to warn that the entire province could fall within days.
Some officials in Anbar have argued that anything short of an intervention by US ground forces would lead to Anbar falling into IS hands.
On Tuesday, a Sunni tribal leader based in Kurdistan, Sheikh Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, even called for troops from the Arab nations involved in the US-led anti-IS coalition to deploy in Iraq.
But the head of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, has ruled out any foreign ground intervention.
Even though IS may not have taken Baghdad at this stage, they are still claiming responsibility for a string of attacks in the capital. In one of the latest attacks, on Tuesday IS claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide bombing which killed an Iraqi MP and prominent militia leader, as well as killing 21 others.
Ahmed al-Khafaji, a commander in the Shiite Badr militia, was killed in the attack in the Kadhimiyah area of Baghdad, a fellow lawmaker and a medical official said.
The bombing, which wounded at least another 51 people, was the third in the Shiite district of Kadhimiyah in four days.
The White House should keep open the boots on the ground option in Iraq and Syria as it engages in a war against IS, argued a former US defense chief on Tuesday.
Leon Panetta, former defense secretary and CIA director, spoke at a George Washington University forum held jointly with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.
President Barack Obama's strategy against the militants should include all possible options, Panetta said.
"In the event that you are confronting an enemy you may very well have to use different options that are recommended to you by the military."
In his new book published last week, Panetta criticised Obama for remaining passive during unfolding world crises, and during Tuesday’s discussion he also criticized Congress for blocking the administration’s military engagements with a budget control law that lead to budget sequestration, which saw automatic cuts to the federal budget.
Panetta said the president was reluctant to support the war on terror because he wanted to avoid confronting Congress.
"The president really did support the operation," he said, adding that Obama was hesitant to take action at times because his measures were constantly blocked by Congress.
IS, Panetta said, emerged in the Middle East because of the US' failure to take action from the beginning. "When facing a tough decision, the best thing you can do is to make the right decision, the next best thing is to make the wrong decision and the worst thing you can do is doing nothing. In this situation they did nothing and the country paid price for it."
He said that the rise of the militants was not the result of one step but rather several steps, including the withdrawal of US troops.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was principally responsible, Panetta said, as he followed a discriminative path within the Iraqi society and insisted that he would be able to keep up with the threat unfolding in the country. Add to that the fact that Arab nations did not support Maliki against the rising threat of IS within the country, he said.
Referring to the the anti-IS coalition meeting that convened in Washington on Tuesday, Panetta said that it is vital to keep the coalition together and push other nations to be committed to assist in efforts in the war against IS.
The militants are now advancing toward the Iraqi capital, Baghdad and Panetta said if they capture the city it will be a disaster for the coalition in Iraq.
Panetta's talk was met by protests from anti-war group Codepink.
Protesters held banners that read, "Panetta, a war criminal," and "Panetta's drones killed kids," accusing the former defense head of drone operations that killed civilians.