With Iraq being torn apart by sectarian violence that many analysts are calling a civil war, following nearly 10 years of U.S.-led combat and occupation, the Queens Chronicle this week asked all seven members of the House of Representatives who represent parts of this borough for their thoughts on the crisis.
Six of the members were asked a series of questions over email, while one, Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Queens, Nassau) answered similar ones during an interview about his campaign.
Two lawmakers, Reps. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens) answered the written questions in detail, while three others, Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn, Queens), Steve Israel (D-Suffolk, Nassau, Queens) and Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn) issued overarching statements in response.
Only Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens) did not answer.
Broadly speaking, they voiced support for President Obama’s response to the crisis and caution about any U.S. military action. None support sending ground forces back into the country, which the United States invaded in 2003 and occupied until 2011.
“What we need to do is something other than just jump in there with air attacks without considering what effect that might have,” said Meeks, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. “We don’t want to appear to be taking sides. This is sectarian violence, Sunni vs. Shia.”
The violence in Iraq has been waged against government forces, civilians and infrastructure by the Sunni Muslim Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also referred to as the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant. The Iraqi government is led by Shiite Muslim Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, who promoted his sect’s interests over those of the Sunnis and other groups.
Israel does take sides, supporting the Iraqi government, but he opposes any U.S. military action.
“The U.S. should not put any boots on the ground or launch airstrikes,” he said. “At this point, I support providing military advisors and resources to the Iraqis.”
The United States has deployed the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush to the Persian Gulf and announced that 275 troops were sent in to protect the American embassy in Baghdad, while the president considers further options.
“No amount of military intervention in Iraq will secure that country’s future,” which is up to its people and its leaders, Maloney said, adding, “I am pleased that President Obama does not support sending combat troops to Iraq and am very skeptical about the prospect of other military options.”
Crowley said, “American troops have made extraordinay sacrifices over the past decade in striving to give the Iraqi people the opportunity to set their own path.” He too backs the president’s decision not to send in ground forces and noted that other options to support Iraqi forces are being considered, without opining on any of their merits.
Meng, also a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said she is reluctant to support direct U.S. military involvement but wants to reserve final judgment on the question until she gets more information from intelligence assessments she expected to see later this week.
Maloney also made a point of saying she wanted to see more information about the threat the situation poses to U.S. interests and the options the administration is considering.
Jeffries said he supports a “strong and measured response” from the president without detailing what that would entail.
He did, however, take the opportunity to criticize former President Bush for launching the 2003 war, something Crowley and Meeks also did, while Meng, Maloney and Israel did not.
Asked who is to blame for the crisis, Meng said, “Obviously ISIS is primarily to blame; there can be no reasoning with fanatical terrorists.” She also said the Iraqi government is to blame for forcing the United States to withdraw, because it refused to grant American forces immunity from prosecution.
Crowley also blamed Maliki and said he must restore stability.
Asked if ISIS poses a threat to the United States, Meng said, “At the moment, I do not see ISIS as an existential threat to the U.S.,” though she wants to see intelligence reports before giving a final answer; and Crowley said he is concerned about its rising power and that the United States should be ready for any contingency if it develops into a threat to the country.
In her answers, Meng also voiced caution about Iran, Iraq’s Shiite-led neighbor, and noted that the United States must support the Kurdish ethnic group, which has been an American ally.