Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iraq Turmoil Sparks Blame Game In Washington

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (left) shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama after a meeting at the White House in Washington in November.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (left) shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama after a meeting at the White House in Washington in November.
A surge by Islamic militants in Iraq has spawned partisan rancor in Washington, with current and former officials arguing over who is to blame for the turmoil.

Senior Republican lawmakers have accused U.S. President Barack Obama of enabling the bloody advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq by failing to act decisively in Syria and completing a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011.

Top Democrats, meanwhile, have countered by laying the blame at the door of Obama's predecessor, former President George W. Bush, for leading the invasion of Iraq a decade ago -- setting the stage for the current turmoil.

Speaking on CNN on June 15, Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, called Obama “delusional” and “detached.”

“The stubborn-headed president we have -- who thinks he knows better than everybody else, who withdrew troops and exposed this country to the inevitable -- needs to change his policies quickly. If he does, we can still save this,” Graham said.
IRAQ AND SYRIA: Past, Present, And (Hypothetical) Future Maps

The Obama administration has said the complete withdrawal was due to Baghdad’s refusal to continue granting U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

Graham’s criticisms were echoed by former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whom Obama defeated in 2012.

“We have the strength to be able to get [Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-]Maliki to sign a Status of Forces Agreement,” Romney told NBC in an interview. “The president said he wanted to get that done, and he didn’t. And his failure to achieve that is one of the things that has led to the kind of crisis we’re seeing today.”
DANGEROUS ALLIANCE: Shi'ite MIlitias Reinforce Iraqi Army

Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, defended the administration following a closed-door briefing with U.S. military and intelligence officials last week, warning against a “knee-jerk” response to the Iraq crisis.

“The Iraqi government a few years back, when they had a chance to sign an agreement that would keep some of our presence there, refused to do it. And so we’ve got to be very, very careful and thoughtful before we do anything,” Levin said.

Republican Representative Mike Rogers, meanwhile, said ISIL, a Sunni offshoot of Al-Qaeda that has seized several cities in northern Iraq and controls parts of neighboring Syria, was able to build its capabilities because the Obama administration “neglected Syria for three years.”

“Indecision caused this now ability for them to get healed, to get financed, to get trained and launch this military strike [in Iraq],” Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News.

The Obama administration has dismissed criticism of its handling of the Syria crisis, saying that the U.S. threat of a military strike against Damascus led to a U.S.-Russia deal to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to hand over his chemical weapons stockpiles.

One prominent Democrat has tried to wrestle the narrative away from the administration’s Republican critics, saying that the roots of the current crisis lie with former President Bush, who launched the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“I think this represents the failed policy that took us down this path 11 years ago,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California -- the top Democrat in the House of Representatives -- said in her weekly briefing last week.

Pelosi accused Obama’s predecessor of leading the United States into the Iraq war under the “false premise” of weapons of mass destruction allegedly held by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

“The Bush administration misrepresented the facts to the American people, took us into a war on a false premise that they knew not to be true, told the American people the war would pay for itself, would be over soon, we’d be greeted by rose petals, that we had to go in there, according to Condoleezza Rice, because the smoking gun might be a nuclear plume,” Pelosi said.

“That’s what they told the American people. Of course it was not true, and they knew it not to be true,” she added.

Former Bush-era officials have been largely silent about the blitz by ISIL, which envisions carving out an Islamist caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria.
IRAQI TRUTHS: The Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Friend

But Douglas Feith, an undersecretary of defense for policy from 2001 to 2005, told “Politico” that the Obama administration was “pretty blasé” about withdrawing American troops from Iraq.

“The president didn’t take seriously the warnings of what would happen if we withdrew and he liked the political benefits of being able to say that we’re completely out,” Feith, who was central to planning for the U.S. war in Iraq, told the Washington newspaper.

The current crisis represented an “education” for Obama that is “coming at a very high cost to the Syrian people to the Iraqi people [and] to the American national interest,” Feith was quoted as saying.

Another Bush ally who has waded into the debate is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who published an essay on his website over the weekend linking the Iraq crisis primarily to the civil war in Syria.

Blair rejected suggestions that Iraq would not currently be engulfed in turmoil if the United States and its allies had not invaded Iraq and toppled Hussein.

“So rather than continuing to re-run the debate over Iraq from over 11 years ago, realize that whatever we had done or not done, we would be facing a big challenge today,” Blair wrote.

London Mayor Boris Johnson responded with a scathing essay in the British newspaper “The Telegraph,” accusing Blair of trying to rewrite history with “a chain of bonkers assertions.”

“Somebody needs to get on to Tony Blair and tell him to put a sock in it -- or at least to accept the reality of the disaster he helped to engender,” Johnson wrote.
With reporting by Luke Johnson
  • 16x9 Image

    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.