“…considering the fall of the most western part of Iraq to ISIS, that didn't trigger a decision point on the part of the Iraqi government and its commitment to Iraq…I'm not sure what else the Iraqi government needs to fail at before the Administration changes its strategy and how we support our willing partners in Iraq, the Kurdish Peshmerga, they are willing partners. They are. And I think we need to do more for them.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – At today’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing entitled, “Counter-ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) Strategy,” U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) pressed Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter and General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the urgent need to directly arm the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, our critical partner in the fight against ISIS.
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said early in the hearing “when we provide arms to the Kurds we do it with the consent of the Iraqi government in order to indicate that we support the idea of a single Iraqi government in Baghdad, but we also want the Kurds in the fight and armed and that has not delayed our arming of the Kurds.”
Senator Ernst later highlighted the inconsistent answers on the timely support provided the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces, explaining “the President now has come out and said that we will be arming them in an expedited manner… If there were no delays, we don't need to be expediting the process.”
In May, Senators Ernst and Boxer (D-CA) introduced legislation which would allow the Obama Administration to directly supply weapons to the Kurds, while remaining in communication with the Iraqi government. The Administration is not required to utilize this authorization, but this option would be at their disposal to respond to ISIS, who is gaining momentum on the battlefield. The Iraqi Kurds are the key partners in defeating ISIS, maintaining an inclusive and unified Iraq, and providing key humanitarian assistance to nearly two million people.
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SENATOR ERNST: Thank you Secretary and Chairman for being with us today. I appreciate your efforts in this area. And Secretary Carter, I would like to start with you because right now I am very confused. You had stated earlier and then you affirmed to Senator Ayotte that we are directly arming the Kurds in consultation with the Iraqi government. Would you state that again, please sir?
SECRETARY CARTER: Yeah, although you are using the word directly and she used the word directly and I did, too. But let me just be clear about that which is we do it in a way that doesn't delay the shipments and doesn’t narrow down the shipments at all but is by, through, and with the government of Iraq. We’re sticking with that principle not because we don’t want to help the Kurds and we don’t want to help them in a timely way, but because we also want to stick up for the principle of multisectarianism. So that is the reason. But we’re insistent that it not lead to delays. And as I said I spoke to Mr. Barzani when he was over here, and make sure he's getting the right kind of equipment not just from us, but the Germans and the others are arming him, in a timely manner. And they are getting that equipment and they’re performing extremely well with it. We should see if the Chair wants to add anything about the method of arming.
SENATOR ERNST: So we are arming the Kurds, it's not being delayed, I know that was stated earlier, that there are no significant delays, because I do want to emphasize that as you know over the last several months my colleagues, a number of my colleagues and I have been working on legislation to directly arm the Kurds in consultation with the Iraqi government. And I know that you and Secretary Kerry also had very strongly worded letters to the Chairman of this Committee emphasizing that we should not be directly arming the Kurds in consultation with the Iraqi government because there were no delays. And yet the President now has come out and said that we will be arming them in an expedited manner. Well, if there were no delays, I don't understand why now we need an additional you know, several hundred members of our armed services on the ground in Iraq and that we are expediting the process. If there were no delays, we don't need to be expediting the process. So I just needed to clarify that because it was stated a number times that we were directly arming the Kurds, which Secretary Kerry had said last year he doesn't have the authority, the President doesn't have the authority to do. I still believe we need to be directly arming them in consultation with the Iraqi government. Following the fall of Ramadi, General Dempsey, you stated that if the Kurds fail to take measures to be more inclusive with Sunnis, Kurds, or other groups, U.S. support for the central government could be curtailed. And sir, considering the fall of the most western part of Iraq to ISIS, that didn't trigger a decision point on the part of the Iraqi government and its commitment to Iraq – or I'm not sure what else the Iraqi government needs to fail at before the Administration changes its strategy and how we support our willing partners in Iraq, the Kurdish Peshmerga, they are willing partners. They are. And I think we need to do more for them. We cannot defeat ISIS in Iraq by continuing to beg, hope, and pray that the sectarian Iraqi government, which is still overshadowed, we heard it a number times, by previous Prime Minister Maliki in Iran. We don't think there will vigorously defend the Iraqi people equally. I don't believe they will. But we talked also about being more inclusive, that was mentioned again. More inclusive. I hear this time and time again. But what I would like a definition of what does ‘more inclusive’ look like? And how do we measure ‘more inclusive’? Gentlemen, if you would address that, please.
SECRETARY CARTER: I would begin by noting the words of Prime Minister Abadi when he was here. I think he used the word ‘decentralized Iraq’. That is one in which there is a central government in Baghdad, an integral state of Iraq. But there is substantial opportunity for self-determination around the country among Sunnis, among Shias, and among Kurds. It seems to me that's a wise way of approaching what multisectarianism means. I think a government in Baghdad that allows the different parties there a degree of self-determination to maintain security within their own territory and to govern themselves, share in things like the oil wealth of the country and so forth, that is what he says he is for. And that's the way he described it when he was here in Washington to all of that. And that is, in my judgment, certainly better than the alternative which is sectarian disintegration. Which could still occur in Iraq, but I think we all looking into that abyss know what resides there. It's further violence for the citizens of Iraq and further opportunity for groups like ISIL that don't -- aren't preoccupied with the long-term welfare of the territories they occupy. They want to use them for further violence. So, that is Prime Minister Abadi’s definition, and I think we are trying to support him in his aspiration to make good on that definition.
SENATOR ERNST: Thank you. General, anything to add there?
GENERAL DEMPSEY: Just militarily what we will be watching for in terms of the intentions of the government of Iraq and its control over groups that are not directly responsive to the Minister of Defense is whether there's retribution. Whether they will allow – it was at that Tikrit that I was speaking about, Senator, as these families come back to Tikrit after it was recaptured, we are watching and it's worth watching on whether they are able to return to their homes or not. I think the same will be true once Ramadi is recaptured. And we'll probably be watching how the campaign in Fallujah unfolds to ensure that the popular mobilization forces propagate a campaign that's not characterized by retribution and dramatic collateral damage. Those are all things to watch carefully.
SENATOR ERNST: I think we have willing partners there and we need to assist those willing partners. One further comment to just, very briefly is you stated you haven't seen a request list from the Kurds on the type of equipment and arms that they need, is that correct?
SECRETARY CARTER: No, I have seen such requests. We honored such requests. We shipped a lot of equipment. And I should once again repeat it’s not just the United States. There are a number of countries that are equipping the Kurds. And, in some cases they prefer the equipment of other countries. For example German anti-tank weapons. That's absolutely fine with us. The Germans are providing those.
SENATOR ERNST: That's one thing I know that President Barzani presented to us during his visit with the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. I just wanted to make sure that we were clear on that and they have provided us with a list of equipment.
SECRETARY CARTER: They did, we discussed exactly the same list.
SENATOR ERNST: Very good.
SECRETARY CARTER: And I have discussed it with others who are, for example, the German Defense Minister I mentioned, when I was in Germany a couple weeks ago. Her commitment to do exactly the same, and they have done a great job of equipping the Kurds. And that's an example of a competent ground force. That also governs within the territory that it controls. That's really the -- what we are looking for in that entire region. Going to be hard to get, but it's what we are looking for.
SENATOR ERNST: They are there and I know they are willing, so thank you gentlemen very much. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
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