White House defends Iraq strategy

The White House on Monday hit back at lawmakers critical of its handling of Iraq, daring Republican leaders to argue for reinserting troops into the war-torn country amid escalating violence.

The defense came after Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump's dangerous Guantánamo fixation will fuel fire for terrorists Tech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny Ad encourages GOP senator to vote 'no' on tax bill MORE (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamAlabama election has GOP racing against the clock Graham on Moore: 'We are about to give away a seat' key to Trump's agenda Tax plans show Congress putting donors over voters MORE (R-S.C.) criticized the administration when an al Qaeda-affiliated rebel group took control of the city of Fallujah last week. The defeat was a strategic and symbolic blow to the U.S., which secured the city in 2004 in one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq War.

ADVERTISEMENT
"I don't think I've heard members of Congress suggest this, but if members were suggesting that there should be American troops fighting and dying in Fallujah today, they should say so. The president doesn't believe that," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

In a statement issued over the weekend, the Republican senators called the events "as tragic as they were predictable."

"While many Iraqis are responsible for this strategic disaster, the administration cannot escape its share of the blame,” the two said in a joint statement. “When President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces ... over the objections of our military leaders and commanders on the ground, many of us predicted that the vacuum would be filled by America's enemies and would emerge as a threat to U.S. national security interests. Sadly, that reality is now clearer than ever.”

But Carney said he doubted that a small contingency of troops would be able to prevent the flare-up in violence.

"There was sectarian conflict — violent sectarian conflict — in Iraq when there were 150,000 U.S. troops on the ground there. So the idea that this would not be happening if there were 10,000 troops in Iraq I think bears scrutiny," Carney said.

The White House also said that it remained in "close contact" with leaders in Iraq and that it was working with leaders there to develop a "holistic strategy" to fight the al Qaeda-affiliated rebels.

Carney further announced that the administration was accelerating the deliveries of arms shipments to the Iraqi government, and would provide an additional shipment of Hellfire missiles as early as this spring.

"These missiles are one small element of that holistic strategy," Carney said.

The U.S. will also be providing the Iraqi government 10 surveillance drones in the upcoming weeks, and 48 additional unmanned aircraft later this week.