June 16, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Levin urges caution on U.S. approach to Iraq

Washington — The Senate’s Armed Services Committee chairman said Monday the United States has limited options in Iraq and said that American air strikes are not inevitable, as the Obama administration considers its options to help the Iraqi government stem the advance of insurgents.

Sunni extremists have captured large parts of Iraq, including the country’s second largest city, and captured another northern Iraqi city Monday as the U.S. State Department said Sunday it was evacuating some personnel from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, said he spoke over the weekend to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the deputy national security adviser.

“They are looking at military options,” Levin said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office Monday. “We ought to be mighty damn cautious.”

He noted the extremists — known as Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham — could place captured tanks or armored vehicles in mosques or schools.

“These are people who are capable of anything,” Levin said, noting the insurgents have “slaughtered” captured soldiers.

He said U.S. airstrikes are not inevitable and said he’s “not sure they make sense.” Levin said he would want to hear from the military about the rationale for airstrikes or other military options before reaching judgments on any possible military options until he heard options on the table laid out by top military commanders.

Levin laid much of the blame on Iraq’s government.

“The real problem here is (Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri) al-Maliki who never reached out to the Sunnis. This is a major problem. How do you turn that around? They’re going to have to figure out have to turn it around.... We don’t have the leverage, nor does it work.”

Levin called al-Maliki “very ineffective and a guy who just doesn’t understand that there’s no hope for Iraq hanging together unless they can unify.”

Obama said Friday he is not returning ground troops to Iraq — about two and a half years after the last U.S. combat troops left Iraq.

“We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepares a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces, and I’ll be reviewing those options in the days ahead,” President Obama said Friday. The United States will do our part, but understand that ultimately it’s up to the Iraqis, as a sovereign nation, to solve their problems.”

dshepardson@detroitnews.com