Obama To Speak About Iraq Crisis In White House Briefing

President Obama will discuss the situation in Iraq, where officials have been requesting American help in the face of advances made by the Sunni extremist group ISIS.

President Obama will discuss how the U.S. will approach the situation in Iraq, where officials have been requesting American military help in the face of advances made by the Sunni extremist group ISIS. The group's fighters have taken over several cities in northern Iraq this month.

The president is speaking at the White House in session that was to begin at 1:15 p.m. ET; we'll be updating this post as he speaks.

As we reported earlier today, the rapid gains made by the Sunni group ISIS have stoked fears that Iraq may be on the verge of splintering along sectarian lines. Many are now calling for the resignation of the country's Shiite Muslim leader, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

In an interview conducted shortly before President Obama spoke today, German Defense Minister Ursula Von der Leyen told NPR's Robert Siegel:

"The source of the problem in Iraq, certainly one of the sources, was a Maliki government which was not inclusive, which was not a government of reconciliation."

"I think we have to get the neighboring countries involved that have influence – like turkey with the Kurds and Iran with the Shia and Saudi Arabia with the Sunnis — to find a constructive solution together with the United States."

The rest of that interview will air on All Things Considered later today.

Of Maliki, NPR's Leila Fadel reported on today's Morning Edition, "He's seen as a really corrupt and sectarian figure that has marginalized so much of the Sunni population, and they're frustrated."

But the possible ouster of Maliki is a sensitive issue — he is an elected official who has the support of Iraq's Shiite majority, as well as that of its Shiite neighbor Iran. But as Reuters noted Wednesday, the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia issued "an apparent warning to arch enemy Iran... saying outside powers should not intervene in the conflict in neighboring Iraq."

The renewed violence in Iraq has put new attention on the Sunni-Shiite divide, with the Pew Research Center saying Wednesday, "In some countries, significant shares of Muslims don't even see the distinction between Sunni and Shia Islam as relevant."

But it's relevant in Iraq — and the split between the sects is more than 1,300 years old, as NPR's Parallels blog has reported.

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