PHOTOS: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Meets with Middle East Leaders to Encourage Empowering of Sunnis in War Against ISIS

July 1, 2015
Press Release

Baghdad, Iraq—Determined to find a way to “fully arm and motivate the Sunni tribes in Iraq to defeat ISIS,” Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) over the past few days met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Sunni leaders to advocate for greater empowerment of the Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni tribes who are motivated to fight against ISIS.

A member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees who has served two tours of duty in the Middle East as a captain in the Hawai‘i Army National Guard, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is on a six-day official visit to the Middle East with six members of the U.S. House and Senate. She left the U.S. on June 26 and will return to Hawaiʻi on July 3.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and her congressional colleagues traveled to Kuwait, Erbil and Baghdad in Iraq, and Amman, Jordan, meeting with Kurdish, Iraqi, and Sunni leaders, as well as U.S. diplomats and militarycommanders.  (Photos and a brief wrap-up of the congresswoman’s meetings in Kurdistan, Iraq, and Jordan are below.)

“The Kurds have proven to be trusted, effective partners on the ground in Iraq and Syria, and they continue to bravely fight against and defeat ISIS.  The partnership we have established with them, coordinating our air support with their boots on the ground, has proven time and again to be successful in defeating ISIS and retaking territory ISIS once held,” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.  “Our meetings with Kurdish leaders over the past few days gave us a firsthand view of what's happening on the ground, the threats they face, and what is needed to continue to be successful against ISIS.  While the Kurds continue to show optimism and commitment in their fight against ISIS, the need for heavy weapons to combat the bomb-laden trucks ISIS uses remains. The U.S. can and must do more to get the Peshmerga the heavy weapons and support they need to continue their success.”

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has repeatedly called for the U.S. to immediately provide weapons and equipment directly to the Kurdish Peshmerga and co-sponsored an amendment to the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act to do just that. She is also an original cosponsor of H.R. 1654, the new bill reintroduced in the 114th Congress that would expedite all necessary military equipment, weapons, and ammunition to the Kurdish Peshmerga to defeat ISIS.

Following her meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Jawad Kadhim Abadi, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said, “Prime Minister Abadi and other government officials spoke of plans to decentralize governance and security and place more authority at the provincial level. Unfortunately, however, their rhetoric does not match what is happening on the ground.

“While representatives of the Iraqi central government speak about the need to provide more weapons and support to Sunni tribes to fight against ISIS in Ramadi and other areas in al-Anbar, they lack the plans, the will, and the sense of urgency that war against ISIS demands.  Time and again, I have heard from many stakeholders of the deep divide and long-held distrust between the Sunni tribes and Kurds and the Shia government.  While Maliki is no longer in power, and Prime Minister Abadi speaks of reconciliation and reunification, the reality on the ground is that Maliki's policies continue to reign and Iran's growing influence and presence of the Shia militia erode any possibility that so-called ‘reconciliation’ is possible.”

In each of the meetings, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard stressed the importance of providing immediate support to the Sunni tribes and the Kurds, especially mid-to-heavy weapons and ammunition, as plans to retake Ramadi are underway. She firmly highlighted the importance of ensuring that the Sunni tribes have a central role in the upcoming Ramadi battleand that they serve as the holding security and governing force after ISIS is defeatedto ensure ISIS' defeat can be sustained and that the terrorists are prevented from re-entering Ramadi.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard explained, “It’s absolutely critical that the Sunnis know that if they help defeat ISIS, they will be guaranteed their own semi-autonomous region or ‘homeland’ so they will be motivated to drive ISIS from the region.  Otherwise, not surprisingly, the Sunni tribes will not be very motivated to fight against ISIS on behalf of the Shia central government.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has led the call for the creation of three separate, autonomous or semi-autonomous regions—the “Three State Solution”—as a way to empower the Sunnis, Kurds, and Shias with their own homeland, self-governance, and security forces.

Brief details of the congresswoman’s meetings while in the Middle East are below:

Kuwait City, Kuwait

The congressional delegation’s first visitin the Middle East was to Kuwait City, where they offered condolences to the family members of those killed in the June 26 suicide bomb attack at the Imam Sadiq mosque.  Photos and more details here.

Erbil, Iraq
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard met with President Masoud Barzani, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, other leaders from the Kurdistan Regional Government, and religious and humanitarian leaders from the community.  President Barzani and Prime Minister Barzani thanked the U.S. and Coalition partners for their assistance with critical air strikes to fight against ISIS and requested more weapons and ammunition support. They called on the international community to assist in caring for the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons who have been driven from their homes by ISIS and who have found shelter in Kurdistan.

The delegation visited St. Joseph's Church where they were hosted by Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda (Chaldean Christian Archbishop of Erbil), Vian Dakhil (the only female Yazidi Member ofthe Iraqi Parliament), and Imam Barzan Rashid Baran (Imam of Mirza Ahmad Mosque).  They discussed the plight of the Yazidi families whose daughters and wives were kidnapped and still have not returned home, as well as the need for support in helping those who return home with adjusting back to their lives after enduring trauma by and escaping from ISIS groups.  Additionally, the need for humanitarian aid continues to grow as more and more people escape from ISIS all over Iraq and Syria and take refuge in Erbil.

Later, the delegation visited the Combined Joint Operations Center to meet with U.S. military leaders where they were briefed on counter-ISIS operations, coordination between Kurdish Peshmerga and the U.S., and the Coalition's work to provide training and equipment to existing forces and new Peshmerga recruits.

Baghdad, Iraq
While in Baghdad, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Minister of Defense Khaled al-Obeidi, Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Salim al-Jabouri, other members of Parliament, Anbar Governor Rawi, and other Sunni tribal leaders.  She also met with U.S. military commanders and personnel, as well as U.S. Ambassador Stuart E. Jones.

Amman, Jordan
The delegation had a brief layover in Jordan where they met with U.S. Ambassador Alice G. Wells.  Jordan's King Abdullah has taken a leading role in the region as one of the strongest allies to the U.S., using Jordan's air power in the fight to defeat ISIS and speaking out against the extremist ideology that fuels groups like ISIS.

Turkey

The congressional delegation will finish their Middle East trip tomorrow with visits to Gaziantep, Turkey to meet with Syrian groups and Ankara, Turkey to meet with Turkish leaders.  
 

The photos below from Kurdistan, Iraq, and Jordan are available here for download.

Above – Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) with Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02) on a C130 headed from Kuwait to Irbil on June 28.

Above – Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia (left) are greeted by Falah Mustafa Bakir (center), Minister of Foreign Relations for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Above and below – Rep. Tulsi Gabbard andthe U.S. Congressional Delegation meet with President Masoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil, Iraq on June 28.

Above – Rep. Tulsi Gabbard meets with Vian Dakhil, Iraq’s only female Yazidi Member of Parliament, who passionately works to rescue survivors of the carnage ISIS has wreaked on the Yazidi people of Northwest Iraq.

Above In Erbil, Iraq on June 28, Iraqi Minister of Defense Abdul Qadir Obeidi meets with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) and other members of the Congressional Delegation – Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02), Rep. Peter Welch (VT-01), Rep. Stephen Lynch (MA-08), and Rep. Brian Higgins (NY-26).

 

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