WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a Committee hearing addressing terrorist activity in Iraq:
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing about the latest developments in Iraq. In recent months, a path of violence and chaos has burned across the Middle East. The unrest has left thousands of dead in its wake and driven tens of thousands from their homes. A civil war in Syria has spilled across a border. And now Iraq teeters on the brink.
“Since December, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant—ISIL or ISIS—has marched across Iraq with lethal efficiency. Fallujah, Ramadi, and Mosul have fallen to their control. Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers have been killed or have laid down their weapons, and the military equipment they left behind—some even supplied by the United States—is now in the hands of these fanatics. The border between Iraq and Syria is gone. ISIS is advancing toward the Jordanian border. And ISIS’s leaders have declared an Islamic caliphate, promising to rule with a brand of barbarism out of the darkest chapters in human history.
“ISIS is an existential threat to our allies in the region. And it’s a threat to the United States. We’ve seen this story before, and we know how it ends. When Russia withdrew from Afghanistan in the late 1980s, that country was allowed to become a no-man’s land. Violent extremists found a safe haven in which to strengthen their ranks, train their recruits, and plan attacks on the United States and our allies. We cannot allow Iraq to follow the same path—to become another safe haven from which another September 11th could be launched.
“So how are we going to meet the challenge?
“In my mind, we need to use all the tools at our disposal, because in the end, there is no military solution to this problem. We need to see real political changes in Iraq: more inclusive policies and a greater effort to avoid sectarian conflict.
“I have real doubts that Prime Minister Maliki can lead Iraq into this new era. In fact, Maliki must go, and the sooner the better. I have real concerns about Iran’s support for the Iraqi regime. Even if the United States and Iran seem to share a mutual concern over ISIS, I don’t see how Iranian and American goals can be aligned either in the short-term or the long-term. I don’t think the U.S. should deal with Iran in this regard.
“We also need to bear in mind that this is not solely an Iraqi problem. While ISIS grew out of Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS grew in strength and numbers while fighting in Syria. ISIS is a regional problem, this is a spillover from the Syrian civil war, and fighting ISIS will require a regional solution.
“The right time to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition was well over a year ago. That’s when I introduced the Free Syria Act. It would have assisted moderate rebels to fight against both the Assad regime and the extremist elements of the opposition, like ISIS.
“I’m glad that a few weeks ago the Administration announced its support for a $500 million train-and-equip program for the moderate Syrian opposition. But, we waited so long, and by now, ISIS has gained so much territory and momentum, they are far more difficult to stop than they were a year, a year and a half, or two years ago.
“I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if we had committed to empowering the moderate Syrian opposition last year. Would ISIS have grown as it did? Would the opposition have been able to apply enough pressure to Assad to compel him to a diplomatic transition?
“And by the way, we passed a bill in the House yesterday unanimously slapping sanctions on Hezbollah. Hezbollah has moved in as a puppet of Iran, and they’ve moved into Syria on the side of Assad and have helped tip the balance in Assad’s favor.
“The hypotheticals and the ‘what-ifs’ break my heart. Because even if we do the right thing now, it will mean small consolation to the orphaned child, the grieving mother, or the family in a refugee camp in Syria.
“I supported the President’s decision to send assessment teams to Iraq, but I’m cautious about future action. We cannot end up in another sectarian quagmire in Iraq. And so I’m interested in learning about the Administration’s vision for how to meet this challenge. I’m grateful to our witnesses for testifying today and for consulting with Congress about our next steps. We must be partners moving forward as we determine what the U.S. role should be in Iraq. And the Congress must play an important role.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”