Obama official defends Iraqi leader to Congress

President Obama's point-man on Iraq did his best to defend the country's leader on Wednesday in front of lawmakers convinced he's a murderous tyrant.

The Obama administration needs Congress's approval as it seeks to help Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki battle a resurgent al Qaeda. The White House wants to expedite the sale of advanced military hardware such as attack helicopters and up to 500 air-to-ground missiles, but many lawmakers fault Maliki for a surge in terrorist attacks that killed almost 9,000 in 2013.

“Why does the U.S. feel like we need to be part of this insanity?” asked Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs panel on emerging threats. “Let them kill each other.”

Brett McGurk, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, said the U.S. has vital interests in the region. He cited oil, al Qaeda and Iran.

He said the Shiite Maliki is under great political pressure from all sides. But he said it's incumbent on him to reach out to Sunni tribes and enroll them in the fight against al Qaeda and other extremist groups.

“He is under tremendous political pressure from the Shia population, which faces a near daily threat of car and suicide bombs,” McGurk said in his written testimony. “But it is incumbent upon the head of state to act in a manner that advances stability in all parts of Iraq.”

Like several others, Rohrabacher accused Maliki's Shiite government of being involved in attacks against Iranian dissidents with the People's Mujahideen of Iran, or MEK. 

“Maliki is an accomplice to the murders that are going on,” he said.

Sen. Ted Poe (R-Texas), the chairman of the committee's terrorism panel, joined in the criticism. He faulted Iraqi forces for not doing enough to prevent attacks on MEK refugee camps that have killed dozens. 

“I personally believe that the Maliki government is in cahoots with the Iranian government [and] let Camp Liberty be subject to attacks,” he said.

McGurk said a Shiia militia leader has taken responsibility for one of the latest attacks and was detained last month. He denied allegations that Maliki was doing Iran's bidding.

“We've found very few instances in which we've seen Iraq acting at the behest of Iran,” he said.

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