Rep. Ed Royce: U.S. Is Not Arming the Kurds Because Shi'ite Iraq and Iran Object

Susan Jones | November 17, 2015 | 9:03am EST
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In this June 25, 2014 file photo, Kurdish peshmerga fighters take up positions against ISIL in Tuz Khormato, 62 miles south of the oil rich province of Kirkuk, northern Iraq. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

( - Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says he never suggested deploying U.S. ground troops to fight Islamic State terrorists, but he does advocate directly arming the Kurds and the Yazidis rather than letting the Iranian government decide who gets what share of the U.S.-supplied weapons.

Royce said the Obama administration refuses to directly arm the Kurds because "the Shia that run the government in Baghdad object to that. And, of course, we know the Shia in Iran object to it too." (So does Turkey.)

The ethnic Kurds, many of them Sunni Muslims, inhabit parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and those various Kurdish groups have joined forces to fight ISIL.

The State Department agrees that the Kurds "have proven very effective against ISIL," but the U.S. does not want the Kurds' success in fighting ISIS/ISIL to embolden them to fight next for their own independent state. That would anger Iraq, Iran, and Turkey.

("We’ve made it clear the coalition’s goal and focus is against ISIL, period. It’s not about changing the map," a State Department spokesman recently told reporters.)

CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Royce on Monday about calls to send U.S. ground troops into Iraq and Syria.

"That's a red herring argument," Royce said. "That is not where we need to go, but we certainly, certainly do need to be supporting those who are fighting ISIS with the heavy equipment that they need. We have yet to do that."

Royce said Congress tried to "force that issue with the president" in the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, which calls on the administration to arm the Kurds directly, rather than have the weapons distributed by Iraq's Shia-led government.

Blitzer asked Royce why the White House is reluctant to directly arm the Kurds: "What does the White House, the Pentagon, the administration tell you when you make that complaint to them -- give them (Kurds) the weapons they need? They're close allies of the U.S. They've led the battle in Sinjar, for example, in recent days. What do they say to you?"

"They share with us, Wolf, that the Shia that run the government in Baghdad object to that. And, of course, we know the Shia in Iran object to it too. But, unfortunately, the Shia are not doing the fighting."

"You're talking about the prime minister of Iraq?" Blitzer asked.

"The prime minister of Iraq and the prime minister of Iran are -- object to the idea that the United States would arm the Kurds, the Yazidis, the Christians, the others who are fighting ISIS up there. They want it all run through the Shia-led government in Baghdad.

"And I can tell you that after two years of us failing to be able to get any kind of cooperation there, they (the Kurds) tell us they need, they must have, that artillery, the anti-tank weapons, the long range mortars, because they're dealing with -- against ISIS.

"Although they have a large force, 190,000, 30 percent of them are women, are females in these battalions fighting against ISIS, but they don't have the weapons they need, and this president needs to reverse his position on that and needs to reverse his position also in terms of the air strikes and give the close order support that we need on the battlefield, you know, to support those Kurdish troops."

"Clearly you have no confidence in the prime minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi," Blitzer commented.

"None," Royce agreed.

"I think the idea that we're going to cooperate with the Shia-led government in Iraq and unfortunately in Iran -- that has been a cul-de-sac.

"They are not going to cooperate here in terms of supporting the Kurdish effort against ISIS, and those are the only fighters that are effective on the ground. And so that's where our effort needs to be."

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