Political change, not airstrikes, will solve Iraq crisis, senator says

A Democratic senator said Sunday that the U.S. airstrikes in Iraq are working but that they cannot substitute for a political solution in the country that results in a strong Iraqi army.

"While the Iraqis are trying to put their house in order -- literally -- and resume the fight, we can provide some limited support to deter...[the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria], but ultimately this has to be a political strategy that takes place in Baghdad, not Washington," Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

He said the targeted airstrikes ordered by President Obama Thursday have been "very effective" in destroying some of the ISIS' heavy artillery, disrupting communication and some of the convoys.

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In a separate interview, form U.S. ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey said that he believes Kurdish forces will be able to stop ISIS from advancing further into Iraq with the help of U.S. airpower, citing the success of similar models in the past.

"We've done this in Libya in 2011, Kosovo, Bosnia, all around the world and it works, if we have other people's boots on the ground and our air supporting them," Jeffrey said.

That matters for the Americans in Kurdistan region of Iraq right now, a population that Jeffrey said could number in the thousands between the U.S. consulate staff, military personnel dispatched to help advise on security, the business community surrounding the oil industry and students in universities.

Both men agreed there needs to be an overhaul of Iraq's political system, but Jeffrey went further, arguing that cannot happen with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki still in power.

"Maliki will not be able to put together an inclusive government," Jeffrey said. "The pressure is on him to basically step down. The parliament has to elect a new government after the elections and it does not look good for Maliki but he is resisting."

They differed, however, on what the source of the current conflict was. Reed - who noted that he voted against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 because he believed it would "have long-term detrimental consequences" - said the current situation is the result of a "leadership collapse."

"I think what's contributed significantly to the situation has not been our presence or lack of presence, it's been the politics of Maliki. His alienation of the Sunni community, his politicization of the military, the collapse of Mosul was not a result of lack of equipment or lack of personnel. It was a leadership collapse," Reed said.

In response to critics who have blamed the president for a complete withdrawal from Iraq, Reed argued that President Obama was bound by former President George W. Bush's 2008 agreement with Maliki to withdraw all troops by the end of 2011.

But Jeffrey said a continued U.S. presence has affected the current conflict.

"We would have had a better equipped Iraqi army, we would have had better eyes on what the problem was and we would have been able to do certain counterterrorism operations," Jeffrey said of what would have happened if the U.S. had left some troops behind in Iraq. "Most importantly, it's psychological: We still would have had a stake in that country and we would have cared more for what Maliki was doing and we would have had more leverage to change it."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.