Iraq vet House Democrat: We need a 'serious' strategy in Iraq

Iraq vet House Democrat: We need a 'serious' strategy in Iraq
© Courtesy of Seth Moulton

Rep. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur Moulton11 Dems float anti-Pelosi leadership plan: reports To cure Congress, elect more former military members Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless MORE (D-Mass.), a former Marine and Iraq War veteran, says he disagrees with the president's decision to send 450 more troops to Iraq to train local forces to take on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  

"This is a place where I respectfully disagree with the president. I think we need a serious long-term political strategy for Iraq before we put more young Americans into harm's way," said Moulton on CNN's "New Day."

"The only way we're going to defeat ISIS is to eliminate that political vacuum in Iraq into which they have grown," he said. "We're not going to fix Iraqi politics by training Iraqi troops."

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ISIS, a Sunni extremist group, swept into Iraq from Syria last summer by taking advantage of the grievances of the minority Sunni population against the central government. Baghdad is dominated by Shiites, and Sunnis were persecuted under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. 

The remarks by Moulton, a freshman Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee, syncs with those of fellow Iraq combat veterans on the committee who believe the administration should be doing more to address Iraq's political situation. 

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), a fellow Iraq veteran, has said that the country should be divided into three states according to the major Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish populations. 

And Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a fellow former Marine and Iraq veteran, told The Hill on Wednesday that the solution needs to be political and that the sending more trainers was just "throwing people back at this."  

"I mean, we did this and left, which allowed ISIS to be there in the first place. So now we're trying to plug that hole, and that's all they're doing," he said. "They're just trying to plug the dyke with their fingers." 

The U.S. is spearheading a mission to train and equip Iraqi security forces, but has left the job of training and equipping Sunni forces up to Baghdad, so as not to worsen sectarian tensions. 

However, Iraqi forces suffered an embarrassing defeat to ISIS last month in the Anbar capital of Ramadi, and Sunni forces there said they had not received training or equipment from the central government, prompting the administration to look into how it can enhance that training.

The 450 troops being sent to Iraq will still not directly train Sunni forces but will help recruit and advise them at a new military base in western Iraq. The Pentagon did not rule out direct training of those forces in the future or opening additional bases. 

Moulton, who served four tours in Iraq, said even if more Iraqi forces are trained, they still would not have trust in the central government unless Iraq solves its political problems. 

He also disagreed with the administration's characterization of the troops as trainers without a combat role. 

"That is really a combat role. I had that mission as a platoon commander in the Marines about 10 years ago. And when the Iraqi unit that we were partnering with came under fire, started to get overrun, we went to their assistance," he said.

"And that started the battle of Najaf, which was some of the most brutal fighting of the war until that time," he said.  

"So an advisory mission can very quickly become a ground combat mission," added. "I mean, let's not forget: The Vietnam War started as a military advisory mission."