Amid reports of al Qaeda-linked fighters storming Iraqi cities, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, charged Thursday that President Obama is not sufficiently engaged in the United States’ commitment to the Middle Eastern nation.
“I think that the president himself ought to take a more active role in dealing with the issues in Iraq,” Boehner told reporters. “Secondly, we need to get equipment to the Iraqis and other services that would help them battle this counterterrorism effort that they’re attempting to do.”
The Republican leader, who typically refrains from commenting on foreign policy, said the U.S. shouldn’t sent troops there. “But there is equipment and some services that would be very helpful to the Iraqis as they develop this counterterrorism strategy that’s going to be necessary, especially in this urban environment in Fallujah,” he said.
Two years after the United States withdrew its soldiers from Iraq, Islamic extremists in league with al Qaeda have taken the city of Fallujah. The extremists are mostly Sunni Muslims, and they are fighting the millions of Shiite Muslims who live there and the Shiite-controlled government that rules Iraq.
The sales of U.S. military equipment to Iraq has been slowed down by concerns from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., that the Iraqi government could misuse the weapons, as well as concerns about the control of Iraqi airspace.
Boehner lamented the “precious blood” and “national treasure” the U.S. expended there and said Mr. Obama “failed to deliver” a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq that would have left U.S. troops there.
“Starting with the president delegating his responsibilities to the vice president, the administration has chosen to spend much of its time and energy trying to explain why having terrorists holding key terrain in the Middle East is not the president’s problem,” he said. “The United States has and will continue to have vital national interest in Iraq. We must maintain a long-term commitment to a successful outcome there. And It’s time that the president recognize this and get engaged.”White House spokesman Jay Carney responded Thursday that when Mr. Obama asked Biden to oversee Iraq policy in 2009, it was “widely viewed as a demonstration of the fact that the president took the need to move forward in Iraq and to wind down that war so seriously. He brought it right into the West Wing, and that is where it resides today.”
Biden had a conversation with Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, on Wednesday. On Thursday, he spoke with President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani. “I can assure you that this administration at the highest levels, as well as through our embassy... in Baghdad is very directly involved in this in an assistance role," Carney said.
Carney added that the administration is “working with Congress to accelerate our foreign military sales and looking to provide an additional shipment of Hellfire missiles” to the Iraqi government.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., noted Thursday that the Status of Forces Agreement, which Boehner complained about, was in fact negotiated by the Bush administration. Blaming Mr. Obama for the situation now “takes a lot of gall,” Reid said.
Reid said it was the right move for Mr. Obama to end the United States’ troop presence in Iraq.“The American people are glad” troops are home from Iraq, he said. “We are going to be watching very closely what goes on there, and we will help them, but there is never any hint of anyone in this administration sending troops to Iraq.”