Iraqi politicians of every stripe on Thursday applauded President Barack Obama’s pledge to destroy the Islamic State militants who now occupy vast areas of Iraq and Syria. The major criticism: He should have acted sooner.
Their generally upbeat statements reflect a change of mood in the Iraqi capital since the U.S. mounted airstrikes against Islamic State targets five weeks ago, and a growing confidence that the terror group’s dramatic advances can be reversed.
“This is a good speech and it shows that Americans are assuming a great responsibility, with a humanitarian and political dimension,” said Ali al Alaq, a Shiite member of Parliament from Baghdad. “Maybe they were slow in acting because they thought ISIS will not move out of Iraq, but they soon discovered they were wrong and it may reach Turkey, other Arab countries and even Europe.” ISIS is one of the Islamic State’s acronyms.
Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al Abadi, welcomed U.S. support in a brief statement, while Hoshyar Zebari, a newly appointed deputy prime minister, predicted that the expanded campaign will work to turn back the Islamic State with the help of “indigenous local forces” such as the Kurdish peshmerga militia and what is left of the Iraqi military, which largely collapsed in June.
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“There is an urgent need for action. People cannot sit on the fence. This is a mortal threat to everybody,” the former foreign minister told The Associated Press.
Ahmed Othman, a former member of Parliament from the Kurdish region, said Obama acted because he was under political attack by Republican critics. Yet he called the speech a “dramatic change” in U.S. policy, because it included authorization for airstrikes in Syria. The U.S. Central Command said Thursday that U.S. warplanes and drones had conducted 156 airstrikes in Iraq in the past month, the latest in the vicinity of the Mosul Dam.
Othman predicted the U.S. intervention will succeed. “With American support we’ll get rid of ISIS,” he said.
Khalid al Aseri, a member of the Shiite bloc, said the Iraqi government had tried a year ago to warn the U.S. about the dangers of the Islamic extremists, when they controlled only several cities in Syria and parts of Iraq’s Anbar province, but Washington was not paying attention
But he welcomed the U.S. effort to win international support for a campaign to remove the Islamic State by helping Iraq to fight the group.
The most negative note in McClatchy’s informal survey of lawmakers came from Ayyad al Asamari, a member of the Sunni bloc and a former speaker of the Parliament, who called Obama’s speech “an exaggeration” and “an intervention” based on motives that were “hidden.”
He said the Islamic State was a small group compared with the United States and 40 other countries that have agreed to assist in the battle against the extremists. But Sunnis were also eager to fight the Sunni extremists, he said, “because ISIS harmed them more than any other sect,” he said.
And he welcomed the U.S. prodding that led to the ouster of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and his replacement by Abadi this week.
The Islamists “got their success due to major policy errors” by Maliki’s government, he said, referring to the former leader’s appointment of incompetent Shiite officers, who deserted their ranks under attack from the Islamic State. “To handle this, and not by security forces alone, they needed a new policy. And America asked for this change,” he said.
McClatchy special correspondent Hussein Kadhim contributed from Baghdad.