Democrat threatens to block arms sales to Iraq

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is threatening to block arms sales to Iraq if the Obama administration does not provide more information about military options in the country.

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The Senate Foreign Affairs Committee chairman on Thursday asked a top official on Iraq policy about the initial assessments by U.S. military advisers on the ground and was told the findings are still being sorted out.

"As I said, the assessments came in last week. They're dense. They're significant. And so, we're still working through those," said Elissa Slotkin, acting principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy.

"After we have done that ... the secretary and the chairman will make informed recommendations to the president," she said.

That answer didn’t satisfy Menendez.

"Are you going to be able tell us anything more than what I read in The New York Times?" Menendez asked, referring to a report last week that said the assessments cautioned that U.S. advisers would be at risk from extremists.

President Obama last month authorized sending 300 military advisers to Iraq to assess the country's security situation, its military forces, and the threat from the Sunni extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Officials say there are no plans to make the assessments public.

Slotkin cautioned against reading too much into a "leaked half-report,” drawing another sharp response from the chairman.

"Well, the absence of having information leads me to rely on public reports and resources,” Menendez said. "So when do you intend to come to us in whatever setting to advise the Congress?"

"You know, this committee has jurisdiction over arms sales. And my reticence to arms sales to Iraq has in some respects been proven true, when in fact we've had much of our equipment abandoned and now in the hands of ISIS," he said.

"So unless you're going to give us a sense of where the security forces are at, moving forward, this chair is not going to be willing to approve more arm sales, so they can be abandoned to go to the hands of those who we are seriously concerned about, in terms of our own national security interests," he said.

Menendez placed a hold last year on U.S. sales of F-16 fighter jets and Apache attack helicopters to Iraq, primarily out of concerns that the government could use them against political enemies.

Slotkin said the administration's intent was to come and brief Congress "at the time when we have [read] through it ourselves."

"We are committed to remaining in close contact with you, and there is no attempt to hide it from you," she said.