Marine vet lawmaker: US should arm Iraqi Sunnis

Marine vet lawmaker: US should arm Iraqi Sunnis
© Greg Nash

Rep. Duncan HunterDuncan Duane HunterIndicted lawmaker Duncan Hunter fails to land endorsement from local GOP Duncan Hunter challenger raises over 0,000 in third quarter Trump says White House reviewing case of Green Beret charged with Afghan murder MORE (R-Calif.), a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, is urging the Pentagon to directly provide weapons to vetted Sunni tribal fighters who were recently routed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In a May 27 letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Hunter said that it is his "firm belief" that the U.S. must arm Sunni fighters and embed U.S. special operators and coalition forces to call in airstrikes alongside Iraqi forces.  

"I believe any such military support can be provided directly," Hunter said. "Doing so will counter both the Iranian threat and the presence of [ISIS] by enabling Sunni tribes to hold their territory." 

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Hunter's comments come after Sunni troops were pushed out of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, by ISIS fighters.

The setback sparked criticism in Washington, with Carter questioning whether the Iraqi troops had the "will to fight."

The Obama administration has also opted to send all military assistance to Iraq's Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. But Sunni forces who fought in Ramadi complained they never received pay or weapons from the government. Critics accuse Baghdad of favoring Shiite militia forces, many with close ties to Iran.

U.S. forces worked closely with Sunni tribal fighters during the Iraq War, successfully turning them against al Qaeda during the "Anbar Awakening" that led to a massive drop in violence in the area.

However, the U.S. has this time left the task of training Sunni fighters to Baghdad, out of deference to concerns about a Sunni uprising.

The U.S. hopes Baghdad will train a force of 22,000 Sunni tribal fighters throughout Iraq to become part of a National Guard, with Sunnis protecting their own areas. 

However, progress has been slow, and the Obama administration is now supporting Baghdad's plan to send in Shiite militia fighters to regain control of Ramadi, despite opposing the idea just last year. The U.S. had worried that sending Shiite forces to a Sunni part of the country could inflame sectarian tensions.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have said sending in Shiite fighters into Ramadi would be a bad idea. 

"Sunni tribes, armed with American weapons and fighting to their areas of interest, present an opportunity for the U.S. to acquire a tenacious and effective ally in the region," Hunter said. 

The Republican congressman also told Carter that his comments on Sunday that Iraqi forces lacked the "will to fight" were correct, despite blowback from the administration.  

After Carter's comments, Vice President Biden called Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to commend his "brave" troops and assure U.S. assistance. 

"Your recent comments regarding the failure of the Iraqi military in Ramadi were correct — despite the Administration's best efforts to soften your remarks," Hunter said. 

"By taking the necessary action, I believe we can prompt a turn of events in Iraq," he added.