By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama urged Iraqis on Monday to quickly form an inclusive government to unite against Islamic militants, warning "the wolf's at the door" and that U.S. airstrikes can only accomplish so much.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama vowed to avoid the kind of "mission creep" that could deepen the U.S. military's involvement in Iraq to repulse Islamic State militants seen increasingly as a threat not just to Iraq but to the entire region.
Obama emerged from talks with his top national security aides about Iraq to declare U.S. airstrikes had helped Iraqi Kurdish forces take the Mosul Dam from the militants, averting a possible breach of the structure that could end up flooding Baghdad.
Since Aug. 8, the U.S. military has conducted a total of 68 airstrikes in Iraq, 35 of which were in support of Iraqi forces near the Mosul Dam.
The president's meetings came on a brief stop in Washington before he returns to his two-week vacation on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard.
Obama is adamant that he will not allow the United States to replay the Iraq war begun by his predecessor, George W. Bush. He said Iraqis should not get a false sense of complacency from his decision this month to use airstrikes against the militants.
"Don't think that because we have engaged in airstrikes to protect our people that now's the time to let the foot off the gas and return to the same kind of dysfunction that has so weakened the country generally," Obama said.
A new USA Today/Pew Research Center poll found on Monday that Americans are increasingly inclined to say the United States has a responsibility to respond to rising violence in Iraq.
It said those surveyed by 44-41 percent say Washington has a responsibility to "do something" about the violence, a shift from last month when 55 percent to 39 percent saw no U.S. responsibility.
The shift suggests a recognition of the danger that Islamic State militants could go further in their goal of achieving a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East, an outcome that Obama says would endanger U.S interests.
Washington is watching political events unfold in Iraq with great interest and is urging the new Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, to form a unity government after former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki's unsuccessful attempt.
Obama predicted that if an Iraqi government is formed rapidly, various governments in the Middle East and around the world would be prepared to step up assistance, after shying away from doing so due to political dysfunction in Baghdad.
"They've got to get this done because the wolf's at the door and in order for them to be credible with the Iraqi people, they're going to have to put behind them some of the old practices and actually create a credible, united government," Obama said.
(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jim Loney)