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As fighting grips Iraq, Republicans reopen old war wounds

11 January, 2014

WASHINGTON: Republicans reignited a political feud over Iraq on Thursday, charging that advances by al Qaeda-linked forces proved President Barack Obama had squandered American blood in a rush to leave the country.

The accusations by prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill coincided with a furor over a new book by former defense secretary Robert Gates that contained blunt criticisms of the president over both the Iraq and Afghan wars.

Renewed skirmishes over Iraq were notable, because by most accounts, Obama has won the US political struggle over the conflict, which he built a political career on opposing.

The president also followed through on a campaign vow to end US involvement in the war, launched by the George W. Bush administration in 2003.

But the president's critics sensed a chance to dent his national security credentials, after the fall to al Qaeda-affiliated extremists of key cities where American troops faced pitched battles during the war.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner, perhaps trying to capitalize on the White House discomfort over the Gates allegations, took on the president directly over Iraq in his weekly news conference. "Precious blood was spilled and national treasure was expended helping Iraqis remove a brutal dictator and repelling terrorist elements determined to stamp out human freedom and dignity," Boehner said.

"That progress is now threatened." Pivoting from the loss of the city of Fallujah, the scene of bitter fighting for US forces, Boehner said Obama had "failed to deliver" by not reaching a deal with Iraq to keep a residual force there after all US troops left in 2011. "We must maintain a long-term commitment to a successful outcome there, and it's time that the president recognize this and get engaged," he said.

Boehner said a return of US troops to Iraq which the administration has ruled out was "not called for at this point" but backed the dispatch of military equipment to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government.

In the Senate, John McCain, a vehement critic of Obama's foreign policy, accused the president of wasting the sacrifice of Americans killed in Fallujah during fierce battles with insurgents over the course of the nine-year Iraq war.

End.

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