The top congressional Republican laid into President Barack Obama Thursday, accusing him of taking a "nap" on Iraq, while a lawmaker called for U.S. air strikes to repel Islamist rebels advancing on Baghdad.
With jihadists capturing several large Iraqi cities, forcing hundreds of thousands of residents to flee, and threatening Baghdad, hawkish Senator John McCain called for "drastic measures" to reverse the tide and said Obama should sack his national security team for failed policies in the Middle East.
"Get a new national security team in place. You have been ill-served," he told Obama in a speech on the Senate floor.
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House Speaker John Boehner angrily snapped that the Obama administration has seen the pressure on Iraq's government building for over a year but did little to help authorities there counter the insurgents.
"Now they've taken control of Mosul, they're 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Baghdad," Boehner told reporters.
"And what's the president doing? Taking a nap."
Senate Republican Lindsey Graham, who often joins McCain in his condemnation of Obama foreign policy, bluntly warned that a jihadist takeover in Iraq and neighboring Syria would create a "hell on earth."
And while US boots on the ground is not an option at present, "I think American airpower is the only hope to change the battlefield equation in Iraq," Graham said.
"The Iraqi army is in shambles, and without some kind of intervention, Baghdad is definitely in jeopardy."
McCain and Graham urged Obama to sit down with his generals and consult with retired personnel who oversaw Iraqi operations, including former CIA chief General David Petraeus, to map out a change of course.
"I have never been more worried about another 9/11 than I am right now," Graham warned.
He also said Obama erred in not leaving residual forces once the last US troops pulled out in 2011.
"Ten or 15,000 strategically placed US soldiers would have held this together," Graham said.
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton came to the president's defense Thursday, saying the deadline on US troops leaving Iraq "was set by the prior administration."
She also pointed to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's failure to approve a status of forces agreement with Washington under which US troops could remain in country.
"So the decision was made, in effect. There could not be American troops left without such an agreement," Clinton said at the Council of Foreign Relations.
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© AFP 2014