Levin rushes to Obama's defense on Iraq

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee rose to President Obama's defense on Thursday in response to blistering attacks from House and Senate Republicans on his record in Iraq.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) placed the blame for the decision not to keep troops in Iraq past 2011 squarely on President George W. Bush and the Iraqi government. Iraq has once again become a hot-button issue amid reports that al Qaeda is gaining traction in the country, notably in Fallujah, where U.S. troops fought two bloody battles in 2004.

“President Bush himself, standing next to Prime Minister [Nouri] al-Maliki in Baghdad as they announced their agreement, said: ‘The agreement lays out a framework for the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq',” Levin said, according to his prepared remarks. “While there was disagreement in the administration over the size of a residual force, what decided the issue wasn’t how many troops would remain. Rather, it was the Iraqi government’s refusal to agree to legal protections for residual U.S. troops, whatever their number.”

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Levin said U.S. military commanders agreed not to keep U.S. troops in country since they weren't guaranteed immunity from Iraqi prosecution. Republicans counter that the White House didn't press hard for immunity because it wanted all the troops out all along.

Levin also said he's willing to agree to the administration's request to sell attack helicopters to Iraq to deal with the growing terror threat if the Shiite-led government can provide assurances it won't use them for sectarian warfare. The helicopter sale is being held up by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

“The issue here is not whether such aircraft would help Iraq fight violent extremists; they would,” he said. “The question is whether the Maliki government would use them only against violent extremists, and whether we receive credible assurances that such weapons will be used to target Iraq’s real enemies, and not to further sectarian political objectives. With credible assurances, it would be appropriate to provide such assistance.”

The two leading hawks on Iraq, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), took to the Senate floor earlier in the day to accuse the administration of having “squandered” U.S. troops' sacrifice. And House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also commented on the foreign policy issue, an unusual move for him, pressing Obama to “take a more active role in dealing with the issues in Iraq” instead of leaving Vice President Biden in charge.

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