Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
US secretary of state John Kerry set for discussions with Iraqi leaders -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

ELIZABETH JACKSON: The US secretary of state, John Kerry, is heading to the Middle East for discussions with Iraq's leaders and its neighbours.

Both Republicans and Democrats have tentatively backed the president's decision to send American soldiers back to Iraq as 'advisors.'

But some Democrats say the use of American military force must be conditional.

Our North America correspondent Michael Vincent with this report.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Democrats have been using words like 'sober,' 'prudent,' and 'reasonable' to describe the president's decision to send soldiers back into Iraq as advisors.

Today the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, senator Carl Levin, supported the limited engagement, but he urged extreme caution as he issued Barack Obama with a checklist of reasons to use air strikes.

CARL LEVIN: First, we should only consider such action if our military leaders believe we can identify high value targets, that striking them could have a measureable impact on the situation on the ground, and that we can strike them with minimal risk to civilian casualties and without dragging us further into the conflict.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Senator Levin's other conditions were for Iraqi leaders to take concrete steps in the direction of a government of national unity, even though their elections have only recently been certified.

CARL LEVIN: That process is likely to take some time - weeks or even months - but a unified statement requesting further military assistance would be an important signal that Iraq's leaders understand the need to come together.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Secretary of state John Kerry's trip to the Middle East will play a critical role in cajoling and encouraging the various Iraqi factions and their regional backers.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest:

JOSH EARNEST: Now it is also of the belief of the Obama administration, and of the president personally, that a successful Iraqi government - that is, an Iraqi central government that has control over the country and can bring some stability to the security situation there, will be a government that governs in an inclusive fashion. Pursuing an inclusive political agenda is critical to the success of that country.

MICHAEL VINCENT: A senior Obama administration official says in terms of planning any attacks, the US now has what it calls round-the-clock ISR: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

What it doesn't yet have is a true understanding of the Iraqi military's capabilities.

The official says the 300 advisors' first role will be to assess the state of the Iraqi security forces and how best the US can train and equip them.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby:

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: The first tranche are going to be really more guys doing assessments. They will have personal arms to protect themselves if they need it. As I said, they'll have the right of self-defence.

And I think the same will be true of any follow on teams of advisors that would come. They'll be certainly armed and equipped to defend themselves. But this is not a major mechanised movement here - that's not the goal. Again, the president was crystal clear: this is not a combat mission.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Former CIA analyst and senior fellow at Brookings, Kenneth Pollack, says there are still some very big questions that the US needs to answer.

KENNETH POLLACK: What strategy are these advisors going to be implementing? I think we want to defend Baghdad; I think Maliki wants to re-occupy the Sunni heartland.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Kenneth Pollack has some very grave concerns for the US military advisors.

KENNETH POLLACK: These guys are going to be in a position to potentially guide or even command Iraqi formations, and they're now composed of both Iraqi security forces and vicious Shia militias. When these guys start going into Sunni territory, they may commit atrocities. What is our authority going to be to stop them? What complicity will we have if that's the case?

MICHAEL VINCENT: But an even bigger concern for the future of the country is the potential for the Kurds to separate from Iraq and declare their own nation.

KENNETH POLLACK: I think there's a high likelihood that they will declare independence over the course of the next year.

The Kurds have never wanted to be part of Iraq. There's been enormous instability and conflict in Iraq and the Middle East because the Kurds have been forced to be part of a country that they don't want to be part of.

MICHAEL VINCENT: For now, the Kurds remain part of the horse-trading over the future government. Their parties won 62 seats in the new 328 seat parliament.

This is Michael Vincent in Washington for Saturday AM.