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Thursday, June 19, 2014



Published June 19, 2014
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The political war over the Obama administration's response to the growing Iraq crisis heated up on Thursday, as Republican lawmakers took to the Senate floor to blast President Obama's foreign policy in the Middle East and urge a new approach. 

Meanwhile, the president was meeting with his national security team and planned to make a statement at the White House at 12:30 p.m. ET. According to senior U.S. officials, he is considering sending dozens of additional special military advisers into Iraq to assist the Iraqi Security Forces. 

Lawmakers were getting impatient. "These recent events ... are not intelligence failures. They are policy and leadership failures," Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said on the floor, claiming the president's Middle East policy has "totally unraveled." 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., blamed the decision to withdraw entirely from Iraq for the current quagmire. 

"You've seen a collapse of the Iraqi Army that I think could have been prevented," Graham said. 

The back-to-back string of speeches on the floor were the latest show of pressure from congressional lawmakers aimed at getting the administration, broadly, to reconsider its foreign policies and, specifically, to get more involved in protecting the Baghdad government from Sunni Muslim militants sweeping across the country's north.   

The president met Wednesday afternoon in the Oval Office with the top four congressional leaders, but apparently did not announce any decisions for the way forward in Iraq. He is said to be weighing various options, including sending special forces into Iraq to help the government. He reportedly is leaning away from the possibility of airstrikes, but officials say no options have been taken off the table. 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and other officials were set to meet with Obama late Thursday morning. 

In the strongest sign yet of U.S. doubts about Iraq's stability, the Obama administration also is weighing whether to press the Shiite prime minister in Baghdad to step down in a last-ditch effort to prevent disgruntled Sunnis from igniting a civil war. 

More so than airstrikes or other American military action, top U.S. officials believe that giving more credence to Sunni concerns about Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can stave off another deadly round of sectarian fighting of the kind that engulfed Iraq less than a decade ago. 

It is unclear whether Obama or other administration officials would publicly call for al-Maliki to resign. U.S. officials said there is concern within the administration that pushing al-Maliki too hard might stiffen his resolve to stay in office and drive him closer to Iran, which is seeking to keep the Shiite leader in power. 

However, officials said, the administration does want to see evidence of a leadership transition plan being put in place in Iraq. 

Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Iraqi leader Wednesday and emphasized the need for him to govern in an inclusive manner. Biden also spoke to Iraq's Sunni parliamentary speaker and the president of Iraq's self-ruled northern Kurdish region.

Al-Maliki, who has long faced criticism for not making his government more inclusive, went on a diplomatic offensive Wednesday, reaching out in a televised address to try to regain support from the nation's disaffected Sunnis and Kurds. His conciliatory words, coupled with a vow to teach the militants a "lesson," came as almost all Iraq's main communities have been drawn into a spasm of violence not seen since the dark days of sectarian killings nearly a decade ago. 

Iraq's government, though, has asked the U.S. to launch airstrikes to contain the fast-moving militant group that has seized Mosul, Tikrit and other towns in Iraq as the country's military melted away. U.S. officials say Obama has been weighing that request, but strikes have not been the focus of his deliberations. 

Obama's decision-making on airstrikes has been complicated by intelligence gaps that resulted from the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq in late 2011, which left the country largely off-limits to American operatives. Intelligence agencies are now trying to close gaps and identify possible targets that include insurgent encampments, training camps, weapons caches and other stationary supplies, according to U.S. officials. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.





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At midday on Friday 5 February, 2016 Julian Assange, John Jones QC, Melinda Taylor, Jennifer Robinson and Baltasar Garzon will be speaking at a press conference at the Frontline Club on the decision made by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on the Assange case.

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