WASHINGTON — Iraqi and Kurdish ground troops overran Sunni militants and reclaimed Iraq's largest dam Monday, President Barack Obama said, as U.S. warplanes unleashed a barrage of bombs in an expansion of the limited goals laid out by the president in authorizing the military campaign in Iraq.
Obama, who interrupted a family vacation on Martha's Vineyard to meet Monday with his national security team in Washington, maintained that the airstrikes around the Mosul Dam were within the constraints of what he initially characterized as a limited campaign meant to break the siege of stranded Yazidis on Mount Sinjar and protect U.S. personnel, citizens and facilities in Iraq.
In announcing the seizure of the strategically critical dam, Obama mixed his message with a warning to Iraqi leaders not to use the heightened U.S. military support as an excuse to slow down political reconciliation.
"Don't think that because we've engaged in airstrikes to protect our people that now is the time to let your foot off the gas and return to the kind of dysfunction that has so weakened the country generally," he said.
Obama credited Iraqi and Kurdish forces with moving swiftly to take advantage of U.S. airstrikes on militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria around Mosul Dam in the past two days. It was the first time Kurdish and Iraqi forces had worked so closely together to defeat ISIS.
The airstrikes have received generally positive reaction from lawmakers of both parties, but Obama's advisers are sensitive to the wariness of the American public to wider engagement in Iraq. To that end, Obama emphasized that it was crucial that the Iraqis step up and defend their own country.
"Our goal is to have effective partners on the ground," he said. "And if we have effective partners on the ground, mission creep is much less likely."
Kurdish officials said the U.S. involvement has been decisive, and seemed optimistic that coordination between the Iraqi forces and the Americans would deepen, now that the former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, had stepped aside, as the Obama administration had demanded.
"The circumstances in Iraq are very different from the circumstances just a week ago because of political changes," said Fadhil Merani, an official with the Kurdish Democratic Party. "The effort to coordinate with our new acting prime minister is very different from our friend Mr. Maliki."