“This bipartisan amendment…provides temporary authority for the president—in consultation with the Iraqi government—and I say again—in consultation with the Iraqi government—to provide weapons directly to Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the fight against ISIS should the administration choose to do so.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) spoke on the Senate floor, urging her Senate colleagues to support the bipartisan amendment she authored alongside Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), to grant temporary, emergency authority for the President to provide weapons and training directly to Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces who are a critical partner in the fight against ISIS.
This legislation affirms the Administration’s current policy to 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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Mr. President, as we continue to fight against ISIS and their radical allies, I rise today to urge my colleagues to support the Ernst-Boxer Amendment which provides authority for direct assistance to a critical partner in that fight—the Iraqi Kurds.
Defeating ISIS is critical to maintaining an inclusive and unified Iraq, and the Iraqi Kurds are the key to that goal—and to help improve the humanitarian crisis in the region through their support and protection of over 1.6 million displaced persons from Iraq and Syria.
This bipartisan amendment, also cosponsored by Senators Graham, Tillis, Rubio, and Gardner, provides temporary authority for the president—in consultation with the Iraqi government—and I say again—in consultation with the Iraqi government—to provide weapons directly to Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the fight against ISIS should the administration choose to do so.
Currently by law, the U.S. must provide support to the Iraqi Kurds through the Iraqi central government in Baghdad, which has often not been timely or adequate in the past. These delays have had a negative impact on the Kurds’ ability to defend Iraqi territory and provide security for those who have sought refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. The president’s recent decision to expedite arms to the Kurds as a way to improve the Counter-ISIS effort, I believe, speaks for itself.
Additionally, last year, Secretary of State John Kerry said to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and I quote, “you said the administration is responsible for sending all these weapons through Baghdad. No, we're not. You are. We're adhering to U.S. law passed by Congress…” Secretary Kerry continued, and I quote again, “We have to send it to the [Iraqi] government because that's U.S. law. If you want to change it, fix it, we invite you...”
Well, this amendment does just that. And it does so in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion. It builds upon a similar bill in the House - led by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and Ranking Member Eliot Engel.
This bill and my amendment are quite different than the House NDAA language. My amendment provides a three-year authorization to reduce delays and inefficiencies in arming Peshmerga forces to fight ISIS—while ensuring the Iraqi government is an integral is a part of the process. The amendment continues to promote a unified Iraq, and enhances the ability to fight our common enemy—an enemy who ultimately seeks to bring their terror here to our shores.
Furthermore, the amendment preserves the president’s ability to notify the Iraqi government before weapons, equipment, defense services, or related training is provided to Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces. It ensures this emergency authorization does not construct a precedent of providing direct support to organizations other than a country or an international organization. Most importantly to remember, it does not require the president to act—it provides him authorization to do so if he feels the situation warrants it.
Beginning in the First Gulf War, the Iraqi Kurds and their Peshmerga security forces have played a vital role in supporting U.S. interests and fostering a free Iraq, despite limited means of doing so. Last week, they not only held their ground, but made some gains against ISIS in Kirkuk Province. There are far too few positive news stories out of Iraq recently, but when there are some—it’s often the Kurds who are making that progress.
ISIS is deadly and determined, and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces – our critical partner in the fight against ISIS – need U.S. weapons as quickly as possible.
We simply cannot afford future delays at this critical moment in the battle. I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting this much needed bipartisan legislation to arm the Iraqi Kurds in the fight against ISIS.
With that Mr. President, I yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.
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