US Secretary of State John Kerry greets Marines as he arrives June 23 at the US embassy in the International Zone in the Iraqi capital Baghdad. Kerry pledged 'intense' support for Iraq against the 'existential threat' of a major militant offensive pushing toward Baghdad from the north and west. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
WASHINGTON — Iraq has offered legal guarantees to shield US special operations forces sent to the country as advisers to help its forces battle Sunni radicals who have seized tracts of territory.
The White House said Monday that the guarantee had been provided by the Iraqis in a diplomatic note to Washington.
The failure of Iraq’s parliament to endorse a Status of Forces deal with Washington led to the complete exodus of all American troops from Iraq at the end of 2011.
Many of Obama’s political opponents say their exit fostered a power vacuum which the Sunni group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has exploited in a rapid advance across the country.
“The commander in chief would not make a decision to put our men and women in harm’s way without getting some necessary assurances,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
“We can confirm that Iraq has provided acceptable assurances on the issue of protections for these personnel via the exchange of diplomatic note.”
Obama last week announced the dispatch of up to 300 advisers to Iraq to assess the needs of the country’s forces as they struggle to contain the advance of the Islamist fighters.
Earnest said the current situation differed from prevailing conditions at the end of 2011, making the less formal assurance of legal protections from Iraq more acceptable.
“We’re dealing with an emergency situation ... there is an urgent need for these advisers to be able to do their work on the ground in Iraq,” he said.
Earnest said the number of advisers contemplated for this mission was much smaller than the several thousand that had been contemplated for a post-Iraq force.