Obama hopes for progress on Mosul by year-end

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday his administration would ask Congress and other countries to “step up” aid for Iraq to help rebuild Mosul after an expected operation in the coming months to dislodge Islamic State militants from the city.

Speaking to reporters at the end of a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Obama said he hoped for progress by the end of the year on Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which fell to the Islamic State group in June 2014.

“This is going to be a challenging battle. Mosul is a large city and ISIL has embedded itself deeply within that city,” Obama said, referring to the militant group by an acronym.

Thanks to cooperation between the coalition and Iraqi security forces as well as cooperation from Kurdish Peshmerga forces, “we feel confident that we will be in a position to move forward fairly rapidly,” he said.

Obama ran for the presidency in 2008 largely on the back of a promise to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, but he has been forced to stay engaged on a military and diplomatic level in Iraq thanks to the rise of the Islamic State.

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Obama said once the Mosul operation was finished, it would be necessary to rebuild the city to prevent militants and extremists from returning. U.S. lawmakers and other countries would have to help provide funding to pay for that, he said.

“We’re going to be asking Congress to step up in support of this effort and we’re going to be asking other countries to step up in support of this effort,” he said.

“Hopefully by the end of this year we will have seen further progress with respect to Mosul and ... further progress with respect to economic and political stabilization inside of Iraq.”

Abadi echoed Obama’s comments about a time frame for the long-anticipated Mosul operation. Iraqi commanders have indicated an operation to dislodge the group from the city could begin by late October.

“We hope within the next few months we’re going to kick Daesh out of Mosul, and we’ll deliver a huge blow to what Daesh believes in,” he said, using another common name for Islamic State.

Writing by Jeff Mason and Arshad Mohammed; editing by Diane Craft