Complexities of the spiralling crisis in Iraq appeared to have wrong-footed the Obama administration on multiple counts this week, as the White House seemed compelled to enter into a conversation with Iran on how to contain the violence and also faced a sharp backlash from the Republican party for what was described as a hasty withdrawal of troops from the country.
Strategic uncertainty regarding the region was compounded by fears that the cash-rich terror group with al-Qaeda links, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), could follow its tactical victories against Iraqi forces with overseas terror strikes including in the U.S. or U.K.
Even as unconfirmed reports surfaced over the weekend suggesting that ISIS had summarily executed hundreds of Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit and other locations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Washington was “open to discussions” with Tehran if it could help end the violence.
Last week President Barack Obama that he has asked his national security team to “prepare a range of other options” for U.S. involvement, although he was not considering putting U.S. troops back on the ground. Over the weekend U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered an aircraft carrier and two missile-carrying ships to the Persian Gulf, prompting speculation of imminent air strikes.
Asked about possible military cooperation with Iran in a media interview, Mr. Kerry said that he would “not rule out anything that would be constructive,” even if contacts with Iran would only move “step-by-step.”
He, however, added that drone strikes “may well” be an option to aid Iraqi forces in beating back ISIS, the jihadist outfit that stunned many last week when it seized both Mosul and Tikrit.
In a statement the U.S. State Department acknowledged reports that ISIS had “massacred 1,700 Iraqi Shia air force recruits in Tikrit,” and described the incidents as a “horrifying and a true depiction of the bloodlust that these terrorists represent,” aimed at further sectarian divisions.
Fears surrounding the repercussions of the rise of ISIS were magnified in Washington as Republican lawmakers warned that the next major terror attack on U.S. soil may emanate from the region.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said, “The seeds of 9/11s are being planted all over Iraq and Syria… They want an Islamic caliphate that runs through Syria and Iraq... and they plan to drive us out of the Mideast by attacking us here at home.”
Similarly House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, noted, “These are not monkey bar terrorists out in the desert somewhere planning some very low-level attack. These are sophisticated, command and controlled, seasoned combat veterans who understand the value of terrorism operations external to the region, meaning Europe and the U.S.”