The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to describe classified details and private discussions by name.
Obama is certain to face resistance from congressional Democrats if he launches any major military response to the crisis in Iraq. Two House Democrats — John Garamendi of California and Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii — said Wednesday they would offer an amendment to the defense spending bill that would require congressional approval before any sustained military action in Iraq.
The House is debating the defense bill and is scheduled to finish it this week.
Beyond airstrikes, the White House has been considering plans to boost Iraq's intelligence about the militants and, more broadly, has been encouraging the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad to become more inclusive.
Iraq's once-dominant Sunni minority has long complained of discrimination by the government and security forces. The Obama administration has said that without long-term political changes, any short-term military solutions would be fleeting.
"The entire enterprise is at risk as long as this political situation is in flux," Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate panel Wednesday. He added that some Iraqi security forces had backed down when confronted by the militants because they had "simply lost faith" in the central government in Baghdad.
Republicans continued to insist that Obama bears the blame for allowing the insurgency to strengthen because of his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in late 2011 after more than eight years of war. Washington and Baghdad failed to reach a security agreement that would have allowed American forces to stay longer.
"What's happening in Iraq is a direct result of the president's misguided decisions," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a Marine reservist who served two combat tours in Iraq. "Militarily, the U.S. won in Iraq, but the hard-fought and hard-earned gains of our servicemen and women have been politically squandered by the president and his administration."
Despite withdrawing from Iraq, the U.S. has a range of ground, air and sea troops and assets in the region. There are six warships in the Persian Gulf, including the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush and the amphibious transport ship USS Mesa Verde, which is carrying about 550 Marines and five V-22 Osprey hybrid aircraft.
There are about 5,000 U.S. soldiers across the Iraqi border in Kuwait as part of a routine rotational presence, several Air Force aircraft capable of a full range of missions, and intelligence gathering and surveillance assets, including drones, in the region.
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Ken Dilanian and Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.
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