WASHINGTON — The Obama administration knew an attack was in the works three days in advance of the Islamic State’s offensive in northern Iraq, but U.S. efforts to mount a response were hampered by the Iraqi government’s insistence that it could handle the threat, two top U.S. architects of Iraq policy said Wednesday.
The officials faced bipartisan criticism from the House Foreign Affairs Committee as members accused the Obama administration of taking insufficient steps to counter the expansionist goals of the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL, an al Qaida spinoff that now operates freely throughout most of eastern Syria and across the vast swaths of northwestern Iraq that it seized last month.
Brett McGurk, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Iraq and Iran who just returned from a seven-week trip to Baghdad, and his counterpart at the Defense Department, Elissa Slotkin, a former Iraq director for the National Security Council, told the panel that the U.S. government had tracked the Islamic State but was caught off guard by the scope of the extremists’ offensive and the rapid collapse of the American-trained Iraqi security forces.
“ISIL is no longer simply a terrorist organization,” McGurk said. “It is now a full-blown army seeking to establish a self-governing state through the Tigris and Euphrates Valley in what is now Syria and Iraq.”
McGurk said the United States warned the Iraqi government on June 7 that American intelligence had received “early indications that ISIL was moving in force from Syria into Iraq and staging forces in western Mosul.” He said U.S. officials had sought the urgent deployment of Kurdish peshmerga militia forces to eastern Mosul to stop the extremists’ advance, but that the idea was blocked by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s administration.