Hagel blames Iraq’s leadership for chaos

Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy Hagel15 former Defense officials back waiver for Austin to serve as Defense secretary The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history John Kirby to reprise role as Pentagon press secretary under Biden MORE said Iraqi’s government is to blame for the rise of a Sunni Muslim extremist group that has taken over much of the country.

Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both said Iraq’s government should have done more to draw in Sunnis in Iraq to the country’s government, which under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is dominated by Shiiites.

“It wasn’t the United States that lost anything, we turned a pretty significant situation over…to the Iraqi people when we phased out our military involvement to Iraq,” Hagel told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee. 


Dempsey said he felt “bitter disappointment that Iraq’s leaders failed to unite for the good of the people.”

The two officials said it would have been good to have reached a deal with Iraq that allowed a contingent of U.S. forces to stay in the country. But they said it was unclear whether that would have stopped the spread of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“The men and women in Iraq did exactly what they were asked to do,” Dempsey said. “There is very little that could have been done to overcome the degree to which Iraq’s leaders failed its people.”

Hagel said it was not a surprise that ISIS moved into Iraq, but that he was surprised that so much of the Iraqi army folded so quickly. 

“We were surprised that the Iraqi divisions...threw down their weapons,” he said.

Dempsey added that at least two Iraqi army divisions collapsed in the country’s north. 


Dempsey said ISIS was able to co-opt the Iraqi army’s leaders, causing their troops to abandon their posts. 

“We could train them to fight, we could equip them to fight. The hard thing is to build leaders,” Dempsey said. “The entire enterprise is at risk as long as the political situation is in flux.”

Dempsey said Iraq’s forces “seem to be holding a line” from Baqubah — about 60 miles from Baghdad, to Fallujah. 

“There’s been some augmentation of Iraqi security forces with militia,” but added that the U.S. needed to find out “what’s defending Baghdad at this point.” 

“There's some things we know for a fact where that they will require assistance [such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance],” Dempsey said, adding that the U.S. has to figure out “the fabric of what’s left of the Iraqi security forces.”

Under questioning by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dempsey said it is “in our national security interesting to counter [ISIS] wherever we find them…It makes sense that they will be a threat to the homeland in time.” 

Hagel responded, “There is a lot at stake for us.” 

During the hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) reiterated her call for Maliki to step down. 

“The Maliki government has got to go. If you want a Sunni-Shia war, that's where we're going. If you want partition, that's where we're going right now,” she said.

Several senators asked whether the same situation could happen in Afghanistan with the Taliban if the U.S. fails to sign a bilateral security agreement with the government there. Both Hagel and Dempsey pushed back against the idea. 

“The Afghans are better fighters, far more tenacious fighters than their Iraqi counterparts,” Dempsey said. 

However, Dempsey added, “I can't completely convince either myself or you that the risk is zero that that could happen in Afghanistan.”