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Obama Ripped for Fallujah Stance as Admin Offers Iraq Surveillance Drones to Fight al-Qaeda

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.

The press secretary also said the Iraqi government will get drones: 10 ScanEagle surveillance UAVs in the upcoming weeks and 48 Raven surveillance UAVs later this year.

“These UAVs will help the Iraqis track terrorist elements operating within the country. We also provided Aerostat surveillance balloons to the government of Iraq in September of last year, and delivered three additional Bell IA-407 helicopters in December, just last month, bringing the total purchase purchase buy and delivered to Iraq to 30,” Carney said. “So this is I think representative of the comprehensive package of assistance that we’re providing to Iraq in this effort, which, obviously, they are leading and the government is responsible for carrying out.”

Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who flew Air Force missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, said U.S. support should include air power.

“The resurgence of violence in Iraq is a direct result of the Obama administration’s short-sighted policy decisions and hurried withdrawal from the region,” said Kinzinger. “As I have repeatedly said, when America withdraws from our leadership role in the world, chaos and violence inevitably fill the void.”

“What’s happening now dishonors all those who put their lives on the line to bring stability to this country, and I hope the administration learns from this lesson as we make strategic military decisions elsewhere in the region,” he added.

And Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued a joint statement saying that the reports of al-Qaeda gaining ground in Iraq “are as tragic as they were predictable.”

“While many Iraqis are responsible for this strategic disaster, the administration cannot escape its share of the blame. When President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, over the objections of our military leaders and commanders on the ground, many of us predicted that the vacuum would be filled by America’s enemies and would emerge as a threat to U.S. national security interests. Sadly, that reality is now clearer than ever. What’s sadder still, the thousands of brave Americans who fought, shed their blood, and lost their friends to bring peace to Fallujah and Iraq are now left to wonder whether these sacrifices were in vain,” McCain and Graham said.

“Let it be clear that the administration’s narrative that Iraq’s political leadership objected to U.S. forces remaining in Iraq after 2011 is patently false. We know firsthand that Iraq’s main political blocs were supportive and that the administration rejected sound military advice and squandered the opportunity to conclude a security agreement with Iraq that could have met U.S. military requirements and helped to consolidate our gains after a decade of war.”

President Obama campaigned on being the president to end the war in Iraq and touted it as an applause line during many stump speeches over 2012.

The two senators stressed that Obama needs to apply the lessons of Iraq to his desire for Afghanistan disengagement.

“Talk of a ‘zero option’ must be dismissed as the surest way to squander all of our hard-won gains, thereby allowing Afghanistan to re-emerge as a safe haven for al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies,” Graham and McCain said. “President Obama finally needs to decide on the missions and troop levels necessary to secure U.S. national security interests and support our Afghan partners beyond 2014.”

Carney said “if members were suggesting that there should be American troops fighting and dying in Fallujah today, they should say so.”

“There was sectarian conflict — violent sectarian conflict in Iraq when there were 150,000 U.S. troops on the ground there. So the idea that this would not be happening if there were 10,000 troops in Iraq I think bears scrutiny,” he added.

“The president believes that we ought to pursue our national security interests in our policy with regards to Iraq and with regards to Afghanistan, and that’s what he’s doing.”

Graham and McCain said that Obama needs a policy makeover now.

“The administration must recognize the failure of its policies in the Middle East and change course,” they said. “America has lost time, options, influence, and credibility over the past five years, and we cannot afford to remain disengaged any longer.”