U.S. Senate Armed Services chief backs Iraq air strikes, with stiff conditions

by Reuters
Friday, 20 June 2014 15:17 GMT

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WASHINGTON, June 20 (Reuters) - Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said on Friday any U.S. air strikes on Iraq should be subject to stiff conditions, especially a formal request from leaders of all segments of Iraqi society.

"We should only act if leaders of all elements of Iraqi society - Shia, Sunni, Kurds and religious minorities - join together in a formal request for additional military support," the Michigan Democrat said at a news conference.

U.S. President Barack Obama has held off granting a request for air strikes from Iraq's Shi'ite-led government but on Thursday offered up to 300 Americans to help contain a lightning offensive by Sunni insurgents, amid an unfolding humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands displaced.

Levin said he backed Obama's strategy, but expressed the deep frustration common in Washington with the failure of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, to try to bridge deep sectarian divisions in his country.

"The problem in Iraq has not been a lack of direct U.S. military involvement, but rather a lack of inclusiveness on the part of Iraq's leaders," Levin said.

However, he said it was up to the Iraqis, not the United States, to pick their leaders.

Congressional leaders generally agree that Obama- like any U.S. president - can take at least short-term action in Iraq without obtaining additional authorities from Congress beyond the War Powers Act and other measures already in place.

However, any action that put U.S. troops in harm's way for a protracted period or that required additional funding would require lawmakers' support. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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