PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The U.S. military has no business propping up the government of Iraq as it battles an Islamic militant group that has captured several cities in the troubled nation, Sen. Jack Reed said Friday at a luncheon address to a regional business organization.
Reed began his address to about 100 members of the New England Council, a group of business, academic and health institutions that promotes economic growth by highlighting several ways that Washington gridlock has stymied growth plans. “I guess I’m giving you the good news first before I talk about overseas,” Reed said.
“We’re going to continue our mission, which is to go anywhere to take out threats to the United States,” Reed said, adding that that mission is different from using military force to support the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“We have to be very, very clear that we will protect our vital national interests,” Reed told The Providence Journal in an interview before he addressed the group. “If there are terror groups that are capable or have intention to attack us, we’ll just take them out.”
Reed told the crowd and The Journal that a big part of the problem is the Iraqi government.
“Maliki has militarized the politics and politicized the military,” Reed said. “He has put in place a bunch of cronies to lead the army. He’s totally exclusive of the Kurdish and Sunni community.”
One prescription to resolve the crisis:
“We want to send the message to Maliki that he has to significantly reform his government,” Reed said. “Maliki has to get his act together. He has to be an effective leader.”
Reed said that ISIS — which stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and is also called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — has tapped into anti-Maliki sentiment in the Sunni community, which has been excluded from the Shiite government. That has allowed the militants to operate freely in Sunni regions of the country.
But it has also meant that ISIS has faced mounting difficulty operating in Shiite regions.
Said Reed, “The question now: Can the Iraqi government hold what they have and begin to roll back what ISIS has taken?”
Rhode Island’s senior senator said a more inclusive government, with Sunni participation, could dampen support for the militants, even in Sunni areas.
In the meantime, the United States has ships and aircraft in the region to keep the nation’s options open as the situation evolves — especially if the militants pose a threat to U.S. personnel in the region. “We will track them down and we will take them out. And that’s for our benefit.”
And the United States will supply several hundred military advisers to help the Iraqi army, Reed said.
“There’s no anticipation that our forces will go in.”