House Dem casts doubt on Obama's ISIS strategy

House Dem casts doubt on Obama's ISIS strategy
© Anne Wernikoff

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday said he doubts Iraq can unite, casting doubt on a key part of President' Obama's strategy for fighting the Islamic state.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said while it is still the "hope" that Iraq could establish a government inclusive of the Sunnis and other minority groups, "I just don't see that happening."  

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The Obama administration has so far insisted on bolstering the Shia-dominated central government in Baghdad and urging it to work with Sunni and Kurdish minority populations, instead of working with them directly out of concern it could fracture Iraq.  

Smith said Iraq was already fractured and questioned whether it was time to start arming Kurdish and Sunni forces directly.  

"Shouldn't we be shifting a lot of our focus to that and basically saying to Baghdad, 'Time's up?'" he said. "That cow has left that barn. Iraq is fractured." 

Smith made the remarks at a committee hearing where Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testified on the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

"So when do we shift that strategy and start building the capabilities of other partners that will fight?" Smith asked Carter and Dempsey.

That administration's policy of working through Baghdad came under heavy criticism after the fall of Ramadi, the Anbar Provincial capital, to ISIS. Sunni forces facing ISIS said they had not received any training or equipment from Baghdad. 

The defeat prompted the administration to send an additional 450 U.S. troops to Iraq to better advise Iraqi forces in Anbar and ensure Sunni forces are recruited, trained and equipped. 

Carter acknowledged that training Iraqi forces has gone slower than expected. 

He said of the 24,000 Iraqi Security Forces the U.S. had planned to have already trained at four training sites in Iraq, only about 7,000 have been trained, in addition to about 2,000 counterterrorism personnel. 

"Our training efforts in Iraq have thus far been slowed by a lack of trainees — we simply haven’t received enough recruits," he said. "We must see a greater commitment from all parts of the Iraqi government." 

However, Carter said the administration still needed to work through the Baghdad government.

"Sectarianism is not a good outcome there. We've been to that movie," he said.