Obama Suspends Summer Vacation To Debrief On Issues At Home And Abroad

President Obama returned to Washington to hold White House meetings on the latest developments in Iraq and in Ferguson, Mo.

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At the White House this afternoon, President Obama renewed his call for calm in Ferguson. He urged both the police and protesters to try and understand one another rather than simply, as he said, hollering at each other The president took time out from his summer vacation today to get an update on the situation from Attorney General Eric Holder. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House. And, Scott, you were there for the briefing. This is the second time in less than a week that the president has spoken about events in Ferguson. What did he have to say?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, he noted, once again, that the Justice Department is conducting its own independent probe into the death of Michael Brown, and he announced that Attorney General Holder will travel to Ferguson on Wednesday of this week to meet with some of the FBI agents who are conducting that investigation as well as community leaders. Now, the president, himself, was very careful not to prejudge the investigation, but he did speak about the need to allow peaceful protesters to exercise their rights while also preventing a small group of lawbreakers from looting and making mischief.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown. Giving into that anger by looting or carrying guns and even attacking the police only deserves to raise tensions and stir chaos. It undermines rather than advancing justice.

CORNISH: You know, Scott, with the rapid escalation of tensions between protesters and the police, there's been a lot of criticism about the militarization of local police forces. What did the president have to say about that?

HORSLEY: Well, he kind of give us a little history lesson. He talked about the good intentions that were behind the push to put military hardware into the hands of police forces in the wake of the September 11th attacks when it was felt that, maybe, police forces weren't adequately prepared to defend against a real terror attacks. But now, Obama says, is a good time to re-examine some of that and look at the equipment that has gone from the Pentagon to local police forces - whether that equipment is appropriate - how Homeland Security grant money is being spent. And the president noted that this is a concern that is coming from both Democrats and from Republicans.

OBAMA: There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don't want those lines blurred.

CORNISH: And the president also spoke about international issues. He got a briefing at the White House today about developments in Iraq. And it sounds as if Kurdish and Iraqi government forces have been having some success with the help of U.S. warplanes, right?

HORSLEY: That's right. U.S. warplanes had been caring out airstrikes over the weekend, and today, they carried out more than a dozen airstrikes, using both fighter jets, bombers and unmanned drones. And the president said those strikes have made a difference and are paying off.

OBAMA: Today, with our support, Iraqi and Kurdish forces took a major step forward by recapturing the largest dam in Iraq near the city of Mosul.

HORSLEY: And that's important because, of course, had that dam been breached, the president said it could've been catastrophic both for Iraqi citizens and for U.S. personnel as far away as the embassy in Baghdad. The president also talked about progress that's been made on the political front in Iraq with movement towards a new and more inclusive government that could unite Iraqis in the face of militants from the Islamic State. But while the new prime minister designate Haider al-Abadi is saying the right things, Obama was cautious to say they're still a lot of work left to do.

CORNISH: That's NPR White House correspondent, Scott Horsley. Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

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