Boehner warns failure to support Iraq risks losing country to extremism

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday warned that a failure to sustain support for Iraq risks losing the fledgling democracy to extremism.

Even as the Obama administration hopes to withdraw U.S. troops by year's end, Boehner said the United States "must remain committed to ensuring Iraq continues to transition as a sovereign country that is capable of defending itself."

"Iraq is more than simply a democracy on the make – it is in position to become a vital strategic ally in the region," Boehner told the vast audience at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the nation's largest pro-Israel lobby. "[But] experience reminds us that one election does not constitute a transition to a viable and responsible democratic state.

"As Americans we know that democracy means not just majority rule," he added, "but the rule of law, the protection of minority rights, and the basic freedoms of religion, speech and assembly."

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Boehner's remarks came a day after two U.S. soldiers and almost 20 Iraqis were killed in a series of terrorist bombings in Iraq, most of them in Baghdad. The attacks raised questions about the readiness of Iraqi forces to protect the young democracy if U.S. troops pull out at the end of 2011, as planned.

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill have suggested that tens-of-thousands of U.S. troops would have to remain behind to prevent Iraq from slipping back into chaos. Following national elections in March 2010, a new coalition government took power in December.

In a shot at the White House, Boehner suggested that the United States hasn't done enough, since Obama's swearing in, to foster democracy in the Middle East.

"We should make it clear — clearer than it has been for the last two years — that America is on the side of those who yearn and struggle for their freedom," Boehner said. "That is our historic and moral responsibility as a great and free nation and we should never apologize or be ashamed of that role."

Boehner also used the podium Monday to assail Iran, warning that the country's nuclear ambitions pose an ongoing threat to "the wider world."

"If anyone here thinks we can contain the aggression and the terrorist subversion of a nuclear-armed Iran, you may not just be optimistic, it may be delusional," Boehner said.

House Republican leaders are pushing legislation that would apply U.S. trade sanctions to any country that trades with Iran.

"Plain and simple, if you do business with Iran, you cannot do business with America," Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, told the AIPAC audience on Sunday evening.

Boehner did not address Israel's borders, which have been at the center of fierce debate in recent days after Obama suggested that Israel's 1967 boundaries be the "foundation" for renewing stalled peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Obama addressed AIPAC on Sunday, when he reiterated that position.