WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s seemingly passing interest in the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq stoked criticism that President Obama is giving a pass to terrorists while fixated on wresting concessions out of Israel for a Middle East peace deal.
At a press availability Sunday in Jerusalem to tout “a productive couple of days with very, very intensive talks” in his push for a Middle East peace process, Secretary of State John Kerry brought up Iraq only when asked about it by reporters.
“We will stand with the government of Iraq and with others who will push back against their efforts to destabilize and to bring back, to wreak havoc on the region and on the democratic process that is taking hold in Iraq,” Kerry said.
“Now, we’re going to do everything that is possible to help them, and I will not go into the details except to say that we’re in contact with tribal leaders from Anbar province whom we know who are showing great courage in standing up against this as they reject terrorist groups from their cities. And this is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis. That is exactly what the president and the world decided some time ago when we left Iraq. So we are not, obviously, contemplating returning. We’re not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight, but we’re going to help them in their fight.”
Kerry acknowledged that the U.S. does “have an interest” in Fallujah falling under al-Qaeda’s control.
“All of the Gulf states, all of the regional actors, Russia, the United States, and a lot of players elsewhere in the world have a stake in pushing back against violent extremist terrorists who respect no law, who have no goal other than to take over power and disrupt lives by force,” he said.
“And the United States intends to continue to remain in close contact with all of the Iraq political leaders to see how we can continue to support their efforts in the days ahead. But it is their fight; that is what we determined some time ago, that we can’t want peace and we can’t want democracy and we can’t want an orderly government and stability more than the people in a particular area, in a particular country or a particular region.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said this afternoon he was “dismayed” by Kerry’s “dismissal of the threat from al-Qaeda as ‘Iraq’s battle to fight.’”
“It took two bloody battles to liberate Fallujah. Many U.S., British, and Iraqi forces – Sunni and Shia - lost their lives to secure that city. When our allies fight al-Qaeda for us, and the United States sits on the sidelines, not only do our allies notice, but so do our adversaries,” McKeon said. ”I note that Iran has already jumped in with offers of assistance. When terrorism is allowed to flourish abroad, when the specter of insurgency haunts democratic nations, our own security suffers.”
“Secretary Kerry and the Obama administration must recognize that in spite of their desire to wish the threat away, al-Qaeda has metastasized and remains a shared threat. I urge the administration to demonstrate a full commitment in support of an ally fighting a common enemy.”
The White House didn’t offer leader-to-leader support over the weekend, instead tasking Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken with dealing with the crisis. Blinken called Iraqi National Security Advisor Faleh al-Fayyad on Sunday to express U.S. support “for ongoing operations by the Iraqi Security Forces in coordination with local and tribal movements in Anbar province to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).”
“Both confirmed the strong U.S.-Iraq security partnership under the Strategic Framework Agreement, and the need for greater cooperation among Iraq’s neighboring countries to combat the regional terrorist threat,” the White House said in a readout of the call. “Senior officials from the White House, the State Department, and the United States Embassy in Baghdad remain in regular communication with a wide range of Iraqi officials to support ongoing efforts against ISIL, and to encourage coordination between Iraqi Security Forces and the people they serve.”
This afternoon, Vice President Joe Biden talked to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, expressing “concern for those Iraqis who are suffering at the hands of terrorists.” It was unclear why Obama didn’t call the prime minister as he was in town with no events on his schedule.
Al-Maliki called on residents and tribes in Fallujah to try to toss al-Qaeda out of town in a message broadcast on state TV today.
“The prime minister appeals to the tribes and people of Fallujah to expel the terrorists from the city in order to spare themselves the risk of armed clashes,” the statement read.
Al-Qaeda has also seized parts of Ramadi. The government has been launching strikes against the fighters.
At today’s White House press briefing, Jay Carney said “it’s too early to tell or make conclusions” about the impact of al-Qaeda taking Fallujah, “but we’re accelerating our foreign military sales deliveries and are looking to provide an additional shipment of Hellfire missiles as early as this spring.”
“These missiles are one small element of that holistic strategy, but they have been proven effective at denying ISIL the safe haven zones that it has sought to establish in western Iraq,” Carney said.