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Toomey: Crisis could allow Iran to pounce

| Saturday, June 21, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Sen. Pat Toomey speaks with local women business leaders on Friday, June 20, 2014, at the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce in Greensburg.

The al-Qaida splinter group battling over one of Iraq's largest oil fields as it pushes toward Baghdad could open the door for Iran “to take de facto control of large portions of Iraq,” putting the entire region under Sunni radical control, Sen. Pat Toomey said on Friday.

“The greatest concern is that this could spiral down into a full-blown regional war,” said Toomey, a Republican from the Lehigh Valley. “In that process, Iranian influence is growing. ... It then becomes increasingly difficult to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”

Toomey said he would consider airstrikes, a move President Obama backed away from in announcing a plan to send 300 advisers to Iraq this week.

“We have no really good options here. ... The entire region is in terrible turmoil that could spread well beyond Iraq,” said Toomey, who was in Greensburg to talk with a group of local women business owners brought together by the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce and Seton Hill's E-Magnify, a comprehensive program for women entrepreneurs.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, wants to establish an Islamic state that would stretch from Iraq into northern Syria. The group has vowed to march to Baghdad and the Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf. The three cities are home to some of the most revered Shiite shrines.

An ISIS recruiting video posted on YouTube, part of a social media blitz, said the group has set its sights on Muslim lands in Israel and Spain.

After meeting with Congressional leaders for more than an hour on Wednesday, Obama said he was dispatching up to 300 military advisers to Iraq but backed off on conducting airstrikes.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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