Former U.S. ambassador: Iraq 'is our fight'

A former U.S. ambassador to Iraq said he disagrees with Secretary of State John Kerry's statement that al Qaeda's reemergence in Baghdad is not the U.S.'s fight.

"Given the importance of Iraq and given the association of the United States with Iraq — in particular Fallujah — this is our fight," said former Ambassador James Jeffrey, who served in the position under the Obama administration from 2010 to 2012. 

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Jeffrey recommends accelerating U.S. military equipment and sending military advisers to Iraq to help bolster Iraqi troops against al Qaeda forces, which seized parts of Fallujah and Ramadi last week. 

In particular, the U.S. could send "bigger and better" drones to Iraq  — surveillance and armed, as well as attack helicopters, which so far lawmakers have refused to do. 

"It is symbolic of America using military force, and American military force is the glue that holds the region together," said Jeffrey, who is currently a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute. 

Jeffrey said he doesn't advocate sending U.S. "combat" forces, but troops who would help provide Iraqi forces with better intelligence, airpower, and more training and advising.  

The U.S. and Iraq's failure to negotiate a bilateral security agreement allowing U.S. forces to stay in Iraq beyond 2011 was not necessarily a mistake, he said, but it prevented the U.S. from keeping closer eyes on the Iraqi military, whose skills have "gone downhill" in relation to al Qaeda. 

Although the current crisis is partly due to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's inability to work with Sunni elements of the country, Jeffrey said the U.S. should continue to back al-Maliki because "he's the less bad of the two evils." 

"The other bad is a glaring one, and so let's rock and roll," he said. 

There are roughly 50 Marines securing the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and about 150 more U.S. military personnel providing Iraqi troops with training at the defense ministerial level, according a Pentagon spokesman. 

In addition, there are around 1,600 defense department contractors in Iraq who train Iraqi troops on U.S. military equipment sold to Iraq. 

The U.S. is also currently providing intelligence for Iraqi troops, but defense officials would not elaborate further. 

Since 2005, the U.S. has sold roughly $14 billion in military equipment to Iraq through its Foreign Military Sales program. 

A number of items were accelerated after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki's visit to the White House in October. 

The U.S. provided 75 Hellfire missiles in December, and has also provided Cessna planes to deliver the missiles, six C-130 transport planes, 30 Scout Bell helicopters and several aerostat surveillance balloons. 

The U.S. will provide ten Scan Eagle surveillance drones in the upcoming weeks, and nearly 50 surveillance drones this spring, White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Monday.