U.S. Department of State Secretary John Kerry said Sunday that the U.S. is not “contemplating” sending troops to help the Iraqi government in its military offensive to take back two cities from al-Qaeda affiliates, flatly adding that “it is their fight.”
Speaking to reporters as he left Jerusalem, Kerry was asked about “specific steps” the Obama administration is prepared to take to help Iraq wrest control of Ramadi and Fallujah from al-Qaeda-linked terrorists. “We’re not contemplating putting boots on the ground,” responded Kerry. “This is their fight, but we’re going to help them in their fight.”
The Secretary of State repeatedly said that it was the Iraqi government’s responsibility to fight the battle against insurgents in their country. He referred to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants wreaking havoc in Iraq as the “most dangerous players in the region.”
ISIL, formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, seized control of the two Iraqi cities last week, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Jan. 4.
U.S. military forces shed blood to take Fallujah from insurgent control during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. During the war, the two cities were fortresses of the Sunni terrorists who fought against U.S and Iraqi forces.
Fallujah and Ramadi are located in Iraq’s Anbar province, which borders Syria and Jordan. Ramadi is the provincial capital.
“We’re very, very concerned by the efforts of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, who are trying to assert their authority not just in Iraq but in Syria,” said Kerry. “Their barbarism against the civilians of Ramadi and Fallujah and against Iraqi security forces is on display for everybody in the world to see,” he later added. “Their brutality is something we have seen before.”
The State Secretary said that Iraq made the decision to deal with its own problems when the U.S. was asked to leave the country, emphatically adding that it is the Iraqi’s battle to fight. “This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis. That is exactly what the President and the world decided some time ago when we left Iraq,” noted Kerry.
However, Kerry pointed out that toppling the insurgents in Iraq is of U.S interest. “We have an interest in helping the legitimate and elected government be able to push back against the terrorists,” he said.
He added that “the rise of these terrorists in the region and particularly in Syria and through the fighting in Syria is part of what is unleashing this instability in the rest of the region.” The Secretary of State said Iraq “will have to win” against the insurgents within its borders and that he is “confident they can.”
In a joint statement, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) lambasted the Obama administration, saying it is partly to blame for what is occurring in Iraq.
“While many Iraqis are responsible for this strategic disaster, the Administration cannot escape its share of the blame,” stated the lawmakers, both members of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. “When President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, over the objections of our military leaders and commanders on the ground, many of us predicted that the vacuum would be filled by America’s enemies and would emerge as a threat to U.S. national security interests.”
“The thousands of brave Americans who fought, shed their blood, and lost their friends to bring peace to Fallujah and Iraq are now left to wonder whether these sacrifices were in vain,” they added.
“Let it be clear that the Administration’s narrative that Iraq’s political leadership objected to U.S. forces remaining in Iraq after 2011 is patently false,” the Senators continued.
In 2004, the U.S. military took control of Fallujah following one of the deadliest battles of the Iraq War. That same year, terrorists in Fallujah killed four American defense contractors and hung their burned bodies from a bridge, bringing that city into notoriety.
AP contributed to this report.