Shiite volunteers from the Iraqi Ketaeb (brigade) Hezbollah, march as they join the Iraqi Army to fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP)
- Filed Under
WASHINGTON — Obama administration officials made clear Wednesday the White House remains reluctant about launching a new military intervention in Iraq.
The US State Department’s Brett McGurk told a House panel that only a political solution featuring a new government that includes Shia, Sunnis and Kurds will allow Iraq to defeat a violent Sunni group that controls much of its north.
“Our combined focus must be on isolating [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)] from the broader population and empowering tribes and other local actors to effectively combat it,” McGurk told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“This will require a combination of political and security measures, based on the principle of a ‘functioning federalism’ as defined in the Iraqi constitution — but never fully and effectively implemented,” he added.
In a telling assessment that provides a glimpse into Obama administration officials’ thinking about the situation in Iraq, McGurk told the panel ISIL is “no longer a terrorist group.”
Rather, he said the group has morphed into “a full-blown army.”
Several Republican panel members pressed McGurk and the Pentagon’s Elissa Slotkin on why the US seemed caught off guard by ISIL’s June advance across northern Iraq.
“We did see this coming,” he said, adding the United States initially was not able to “do anything” to combat the group’s bloody march to the outskirts of Baghdad.
Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., pointed to what he called evidence that Iraqi officials asked for US airstrikes against ISIL earlier this year, saying an official letter went to the White House on March 24.
McGurk sternly said the first formal requests only came in May.
Royce was not satisfied with the State Department official’s reply, expressing frustration about “why wouldn’t” the administration send armed drones to strike ISIL formations.
Royce said Iraqi leaders wanted to purchase their own drones, then asked for US drones to do the work when their requests were rebuffed.
McGurk said the priority was to help “the Iraqis with their Hellfire [missile] strikes,” and repeated his May request timeline.
The administration continues to publicly state it is not planning a US military intervention.
McGurk said Iraq’s request for US airstrikes “is still under active consideration” in Washington.
Slotkin said “there is no exclusively military solution to the threats posed by ISIL in Iraq.”
“DoD remains postured should the president decide to use military force as part of a broader strategy. Our immediate goals … are to protect our people and property in Iraq; gain a better understanding of how we might best train, advise and support the Iraqi Security Forces [ISF] capabilities should we decide to support the ISF going forward,” Slotkin told the panel, “and expand our understanding — particularly via intelligence — of ISIL.” ■