In Obama's Iraq Plan, An Answer That Breeds More Questions

Jun 20, 2014
Originally published on June 20, 2014 7:08 pm

President Obama says that up to 300 U.S. military personnel will be heading to Iraq to advise Iraqi forces, not to serve in combat. But the proposal raises more questions: Will those U.S. forces heading out with Iraqi troops be armed? What are the rules of engagement? And how long will they stay?

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. And we begin this hour with Iraq, where the Sunni militant group, known as ISIS, has captured wide swaths of northern Iraq and is making its way toward Baghdad. President Obama has said, he'll deploy as many as several hundred U.S. military advisors to help Iraqi Security Forces deal with the growing threat from ISIS, which is also known as I, S, I, L. But as NPR's Tom Bowman reports, the president's decision raises more questions than answers.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The president said this new effort will include up to 300 military personnel. Teams of U.S. advisors will spread out and work with Iraqi forces. Other teams will be inside command centers, partly to find targets for possible American airstrikes.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We're prepared to create joint operation centers in Baghdad and northern Iraq to share intelligence and coordinate planning to confront the terrorist threat of I, S, I, L.

BOWMAN: But sharing intelligence and coordinating hasn't always worked in the past. Derek Harvey advised General David Petraeus in Iraq during the surge in 2007. He says the Iraqi army would, at times, provide the U.S. with faulty information.

DEREK HARVEY: In the past, Iraqi Security Forces have skewed intelligence and shaped our targeting to, in effect, target the political enemies and not go after al-Qaida or, in this case, it would be I, S, I, L.

BOWMAN: And political enemies, you mean going after the Sunnis.

HARVEY: Going after Sunni Arab political and tribal leaders that are key figures that they want to remove.

BOWMAN: Harvey said the U.S. military, at times, hit the wrong targets and killed Sunnis because of that bad information. Now the U.S. is trying to coax Sunni tribal sheikhs to work with Shia-dominated government that continues to oppress them. So how will the U.S. carefully check any targeting and intelligence information shared by the Iraqis with only a few hundred advisors and not the tens of thousands they had back in 2007? Another question - how will the U.S. deal with Iranian military forces, including General Qasem Soleimani, who heads part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and is advising Iraqi forces? Again, Derek Harvey.

HARVEY: Qasem Soleimani already has been in Baghdad and has visited operation centers and has deployed key lieutenants of his to places like Samarra, Najaf, Karbala, and Kadhimiya .

BOWMAN: So will the Americans coordinate with the Iranian general? The White House had a simple answer. No. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.