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US Senators hesitate sending arms to Iraq fearing wider sectarian conflict

Published time: January 09, 2014 05:11
AH-64E Apache.(Reuters / Stringer)

AH-64E Apache.(Reuters / Stringer)

As top US lawmakers consider whether to provide Iraq with helicopters and other arms to help battle Al-Qaeda, a number of congressmen have said they are reluctant to authorize such a move over concerns that PM Maliki may use them against his rivals.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi military are known to be preparing a military assault with the goal of re-taking the city of Fallujah from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), a faction of Al Qaeda, and other members of the insurgency.

Meanwhile, US President Obama has asked Congress to permit the sale of Boeing Ah-64 Apache helicopters to assist the government in its fight against the insurgency.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Relations Committee have both delayed the sale, in no small part because of lingering fears that Maliki - who is Shia - will use American weapons not only against ISIS, but also against his Sunni political rivals.

Among those requiring further convincing is Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who congressional aides told the Daily Beast is reviewing a letter Maliki sent outlining how Iraq plans to use the US weapons only for counter-terrorism.

Those have been held by us until we got a more comprehensive assessment of how he’s moving forward and how he’s going to engage the Sunni minority,” Menendez said. “So we are reviewing that letter and that may very well be the process by which we will consider some of those sales.”

Menendez is joined in his hesitancy by Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI).

It’s fine to [sell Iraq Apaches] and help them with intelligence, but also Maliki has got to come to some kind of accommodation with the Sunnis, he’s got to do some outreach,” McCain said, as quoted by the Daily Beast.

Reuters / Ahmed Saad

Also reluctant is Norman Soloman, an American journalist and antiwar activist, who told RT that violence plus more firepower does not equal peace.

The more weapons that are dumped into the region and the ideology of ‘My enemy of my enemy is my friend and therefore should be given more weapons,’ all of that is adding up to just one catastrophe compounding another,” he said. “For the US government today to act as though it were helping the situation by sending more weapons, not only drones but missiles and other armaments, this is just a disastrous course being pursued.”

Likewise, some Iraq war veterans feel that the origin of the conflict makes it current state much more difficult to get a grip on. Michael Prysner served in the Middle East before he returned to the US and started March Forward, a group that lobbies on behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Prysner told RT that the conflict Iraqis are enduring today has its seeds in the 2003 US invasion.

What did the US expect?” Prysner wondered. “You go into a country, you violently invade it and you occupy and disable all of its government ministries, all of its vital government elements that provide services – dismantling the police force, and then forming this client government along sectarian lines. Favoring sectarian lines, favoring groups against each other, arming groups against each other, and then installing a government that pursued a violently sectarian policy, which continues to this day.”

Michael O’Brien, a former contractor for the Defense Department stationed in Iraq and now an author, says that the war has devolved essentially into a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. O’Brien said that arms from the US could only make the situation worse.

I’m very skeptical of it, I really am,” he told RT. “I was there from July of 2006 to September 2007 during the height of the insurgency I was there for 14 months and from what I saw of the Iraqi army, which as we all know was being created from scratch after being disbanded by Paul Bremmer, I can’t see the Iraqi army really being able to stand on its own.”

How are they going to use all of these very sophisticated weapons systems? Are they flying the drones, do they have the staff or personnel to operate these weapons systems?” O’Brien continued. “I’m not optimistic about this at all.”

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