On Wednesday, February 5th, the House Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing, moderated by Chairman Ed Royce, to discuss Al Qaeda’s resurgence in Iraq with Brett McGurk, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran.
Many of the hearing’s statements and questions centered around ISIL, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, an Al Qaeda offshoot. Rep. Deutch (D-FL) stated that ISIL is a primary perpetrator of the “worst crimes” in the region, and deemed too violent for Al Qaeda.
McGurk’s testimony focused on ISIL and the US strategy necessary to defeat them. He called ISIL’s attacks “calculated, coordinated, and part of a strategic campaign.” He called ISIL’s strategy “sophisticated, patient, and focused.” He asserted the administration’s strategy for dealing with the security situation in Iraq and what he called a “holistic strategy to isolate and defeat ISIL over the long-term.” McGurk said that this strategy includes economic support, working to include tribal leaders in Iraqi politics and the fight against ISIL, accelerating US arms sales to Iraq in order to strengthen Iraq’s security forces, and helping to ensure the legitimacy of the Iraqi political system by making sure that the upcoming April elections take place. At the end of his testimony, McGurk stressed that “vital US interests are at stake in Iraq,” something that EPIC wholeheartedly agrees with.
The hearing also focused on the recent fall of Fallujah and other areas in Iraq’s Anbar province. Rep. Engel (D-NY) said that he was heartbroken over the recent developments, and that they were a “huge symbolic loss” for the United States. Many of the members in attendance expressed their concerns about the loss of Fallujah and the tactics necessary to take the city back. Many members repeated Vice President Biden’s appeal to involve Sunni tribes in the resistance. Rep. Connolly (D-VA), on the other hand, asked why the Iraqi military did not simply enter the city and take it back by force. McGurk, however, advised against such actions, warning that military interference from the Shi’a majority central government could further exacerbate the situation.
Perhaps one of the most impassioned parts of the hearing came during questions regarding the safety of Camp Liberty. Camp Liberty is a former US military installation outside of Baghdad that’s now being used to house members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK. Members of MEK have been exiled from Iran since the Iranian Revolution. Members moved to Camp Liberty from Camp Ashraf in 2012, after a deadly attack against Ashraf in 2011 which Secretary of State John Kerry referred to as “a massacre.”
Camp Liberty itself has recently faced numerous rocket attacks, causing constant fear for its residents. In her opening statement, subcommittee on Middle Eastern Affairs chairwoman Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) called for increased security for Camp Ashraf and questioned McGurk as to why more T walls, a reinforced concrete wall used for blast protection, had not been installed. McGurk responded that he had just received a correspondence earlier Wednesday’s morning that more walls were set to be installed in the upcoming days. The residents of Camp Liberty, like millions of other vulnerable Iraqis, deserve to be protected from harm. While T walls will certainly increase their safety, perhaps the best way to ensure their protection is to promote reconciliation and development in Iraq as a whole.
Whatever the topic, here at EPIC we’re glad to see that congress is addressing issues in Iraq. It is our position that the United States has a moral obligation to the people of Iraq, and we cannot turn our backs on that obligation. As Rep. Sherman (D-CA) stated “we hastily handed over governance to those who were ill-prepared.” While we are in no way advocating for a troop return, we do advocate for continued aid and assistance to the Iraqi people as they continue to try and rebuild their country following the 2003 invasion and the subsequent occupation of their country. The resurgence of terrorist groups in the region is a serious issue and threat to stability – but it’s important to note that it’s not the only issue at hand. Just last week, the UNHCR announced that the number of displaced people forced to flee Anbar province has grown to a staggering 300,000. With elections planned in April, it’s important to ensure that these elections are free, fair, and that all Iraqis have the opportunity to cast their votes. Promoting peace and reconciliation in Iraq is no easy task, but here at EPIC we’re happy to see that at least Iraq is getting back on Congress’ agenda.
A video version of the full hearing can be found here.