Issue: Back to Baghdad
What’s happening: President Barack Obama announced on June 19 that he’s sending as many as 300 US military advisers to Iraq to assist the Baghdad government in battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as the group gains ground in northern and western Iraq, adding to the ground it controls in eastern Syria.
What’s next: Republicans and Democrats continue to try to find a foothold on the issue, which comes wrapped up in opinion polls that show the majority of Americans are opposed to US ground troops in Iraq, but are concerned about the terrorism threat. Republicans took to the Senate floor June 19 to denounce the president’s policies, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., stating that Obama’s “dogged adherence to withdrawing our conventional strength [from Iraq] … has created a more dangerous world.” The Senate has already received two classified briefings on the situation, and more closed and open sessions are being discussed as US involvement grows, especially since Obama told congressional leaders that he wouldn’t expect to consult with the Hill if he decides to take direct military action.
Issue: An Iranian Ally?
What’s happening: Administration officials have said they are open to collaborating with Iran on trying to bring stability to Iraq, though they have been careful to say that military-to-military cooperation is out of the question and they’re not interested in a partnership if Iran is solely focused on propping up its Shia allies in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government at the expense of the Sunnis and Kurds.
What’s next: There have been reports of some sideline conversations about Iraq between US and Iranian diplomats at the P5+1 Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program in Geneva, but all sides appear eager not to let Iraq drown out the work aimed at reaching agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany want Iran to give international inspectors more access to its nuclear sites, and Iran is looking for a relaxation of international sanctions if conditions are met. Iraq adds a new wrinkle and a potential new bargaining chip.
Issue: Paying the Bill
What’s happening: While deploying 300 Special Forces troops to Iraq — forces that are already in US Central Command — may not break the budget, Obama said he plans on using his recently announced Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund to help foot the bill for those operations, along with any other joint training and advising operations that the US conducts in Iraq and with its allies. He wants that fund to be added to the overseas contingency operations (OCO) budget, which covers wartime supplemental funding.
What’s next: The problem with the president saying he wants to dip into that OCO account? It doesn’t exist. Gordon Adams, professor of international relations at American University, emails that not only is there no such fund, but “there has, to date, been no administration request for either the statutory authorities that would create that fund or the budget that would provide its money. In the best of circumstances, such a fund would only exist later this year, if Congress agrees to provide both the authorities and the money.”