An Army veteran who helped capture Saddam Hussein told Newsmax TV
on Monday that it's "staggering" to see the United States seriously weigh Iran's offer
to be a partner for peace in Iraq.
"These were the very people that brought the roadside bombs" that were so lethal to U.S. troops during eight years of Iraqi occupation, said retired Lt. Col. Steve Russell, a GOP congressional candidate in Oklahoma and the author of "We Got Him! A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein
Noting roadside bombs made in Iran "killed hundreds if not even a couple of thousand American soldiers in Iraq," Russell told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner, "I find it staggering that we are so dazed in what our Iraq policy should be that we would allow the Iranians to come in and influence the region."
Russell, in a wide-ranging survey of Iraq's latest upheaval
, blamed the violence not just on militant Islamists but also on radicalized Iraqi Sunnis shut out of the country's governing institutions by the politically dominant Shia majority.
"If they can't further their voice politically, they're going to further it with an AK-47," he said.
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Russell said the Obama administration enabled both developments — Shia political vendetta and violent Sunni backlash — by failing to persuade Iraq to accept some U.S. troop presence after 2011.
"There's where the United States bears the greatest responsibility," said Russell, "because after every conflict . . . we have a Status of Forces [agreement]. We leave a contingent of troops. We work with the nascent governments."
He also said most Iraqis reject sectarian violence.
"They have a long secular tradition," he said. "They're not the ones that want a jihadist movement or government either on the Shia Arab side or the Sunni Arab side . . . They're very educated. They have the capacity to put this together.
"But what we're seeing is an incompetent [Shia] prime minister [Nouri al-Maliki], backed by a lethargic and disinterested United States, that is allowing handfuls . . . of these insurgents to dust up a very, very big problem," said Russell.
Nor are Maliki's security problems confined to Sunnis, he noted.
"He is not able to contain or control extremists . . . even in his own Shia Arab population," said Russell, citing the Badr Corps and Mahdi Army fighting forces controlled by powerful Shia religious figures. "These are people that do not want stability. They do not want Maliki. They want their own power."
The administration has to make all of this clear to Maliki, said Russell.
"We tell him, 'Look, if you're going to have our support, if you're going to have our intelligence, if you're going to have our airstrikes, if you're going to have our long-term commitment, you must reach out to the Sunni Arabs. You must reach out to the Kurds. You put this back together so we don't get a jihadist state or some odd entity in the middle of Iraqi territory.'
"The United States can readily do this, and the president needs to lead," he said.
Russell suggested President Barack Obama take the Iranian offer to mediate politely: "Tell the Iranians, 'We appreciate your interest in the safety of the Iraqi people. You're welcome to send food. You're welcome to send medical supplies. We appreciate that. It will be received at the border.'"
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