Share This Page

Congress briefed on Iraq; Obama says he won't seek OK on use of force

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 9:51 p.m.
President Obama meets with (clockwise from left) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the Oval Office on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Obama briefed leaders of Congress on options for blunting an Islamic insurgency in Iraq. U.S. officials say Obama is not yet prepared to move forward with strikes and is instead focused on increased training for Iraq's security forces, boosting Iraqi intelligence capacities and upgrading equipment.

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday discussed the crisis in Iraq with senior lawmakers behind closed doors, telling them he would not seek Congress' formal approval should he decide that military force is necessary — a sore point for several members of both parties.

The president “indicated he didn't feel he had any need for authority from us for steps he might take,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Lawmakers gave no indication after the meeting that military action was imminent, even though the Iraqi president had requested U.S. airstrikes against Sunni terrorists who've swept through parts of the country since last week.

At a Senate hearing ostensibly on the Pentagon's 2015 budget, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey said for the first time that the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad had asked that Washington provide “air power” as it tries to take back territory seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and fellow Sunni insurgents. Iraqi officials have said their army, which offered little resistance as it retreated from several northern cities last week, needs help in the form of armed U.S. drones and fighter aircraft — something that Obama has declined to authorize.

Dempsey told a panel from the Senate Appropriations Committee that pinpointing targets in an air campaign would be difficult, especially because Sunni insurgents have melted into the local population.

“It's not as easy as looking at an iPhone video of a convoy and then immediately striking,” he said.

The broader problem, he added, was that the government of Iraq, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, had worsened Iraq's sectarian divisions. U.S. officials, who originally paved the way for Maliki to take power, have chastised him for alienating the country's Sunnis and Kurds.

In a televised address, Maliki struck an upbeat tone on the security situation as fighting raged for control of Iraq's largest oil refinery, saying volunteers who had answered a call from Iraq's top Shiite cleric would form the core of the new security forces.

Perhaps in an attempt to satisfy the United States, Maliki's speech lacked some of the religious rhetoric of previous addresses. But he attacked his political opponents for assisting countries in the region in a “sinister” plot to break up the country.

The loss of the refinery, which provides Iraq with more than a quarter of its domestically produced fuel, would mark another strategic blow to Maliki's government and could help fund the militants' rampage.

The clashes at the Baiji refinery, 130 miles north of Baghdad, occurred after an agreement collapsed between workers and tribesmen affiliated with ISIS, according to state oil officials and refinery workers.

The deal meant oil was still pumped to the facility last week even though militants controlling the surrounding area could hijack tankers and cut off pipelines, effectively controlling output, they said.

In Baghdad, military and security officials denied that the facility had fallen out of government hands. Gen. Qassim Atta, a military spokesman, said on Iraqiya television that the refinery was entirely under government control and that 40 insurgents had been killed as security forces repelled their advance on Wednesday. Atta's claims of government gains have conflicted with accounts from the ground in the past.

In other developments:

• Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament in London that ISIS was plotting terror attacks on British soil.

• India confirmed that 40 of its citizens had been kidnapped in the violence-hit Iraqi city of Mosul.

• Saudi Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal warned that Iraq was risking civil war.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.