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McCaskill Blames Iraqi Leaders For Violence, Cautious About U.S. Help

Claire McCaskill's Flickr Page

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says the Iraqi government bears most of the blame for the violence now engulfing the country and is urging caution as the U.S. government decides how to respond.

“The mess that is in Iraq right now is Iraq’s doing,” McCaskill said in a conference call Tuesday with Missouri journalists. “The U.S. put them on a path of free and fair elections, and to have a military that could enforce the rule of law...I’m sick to my stomach that what we have done in that country has been so carelessly and casually abandoned in favor of sectarian dominance.”

“I think we need to be very, very cautious about getting involved,” she continued. “So much of what we could do would merely be a band-aid and wouldn’t get at the underlying cause of this conflict.”

McCaskill blamed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for favoring his own fellow Shi'ite Muslims and refusing calls to work with the Sunni Muslims, who are believed to be part of the brutal Isis insurgency now sweeping through sections of northern Iraq.

She emphasized that “one of the reasons we removed troops from Iraq when we did and how we did” was because the Iraq government refused to sign an agreement that would prevent it from arresting U.S. soldiers and putting them in Iraqi prisons. "The Iraq government decided that they didn't want us there any more, period."

McCaskill said that constituents who have contacted her office primarily communicate "a sense of despair that we spent so much money and so many precious lives were lost,'' but she said they are not eager to repeat the process.

“I believe that the Iraq war was a mistake,” McCaskill said, reaffirming her stance from 2006, when she first ran for the Senate.  “I believe that the failure that we are confronting now is a failure of leadership within Iraq.’’

She added that she lamented that Iraq’s new leaders failed to live up to “all of the sacrifices that our country made, in terms of the lives that we lost and the money that was spent” during the eight years that the United States had troops in Iraq.

McCaskill did say that she supported President Barack Obama’s decision to send in more than 200 U.S. troops to help defend the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. McCaskill said she has long been skeptical of the U.S. practice of contracting out security for its embassies and missions, adding that she preferred that the U.S. military handle that function.

Blunt, McCaskill split over Benghazi suspect

Meanwhile, both of Missouri’s U.S. senators -- McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt – are praising the weekend capture of Libyan militia leader Ahmed Abu Khatallah by U.S. special forces working with the FBI. Khatallah is accused of being a mastermind of the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of four Americans, including the ambassador.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Credit (via Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Roy Blunt

But McCaskill and Blunt disagree over what should come next.

McCaskill, a former prosecutor, agrees with the Justice Department's decision to try Khatallah in U.S. courts. “It’s terrific that he’s been captured. I understand we have strong evidence,” McCaskill said, “and hopefully he will  spend the rest of his life in prison.”

“I think the American court system will be fair, it will be thorough and I’m confident the prosecutors will do a terrific job,” McCaskill continued. “Our court systems have handled the most outrageous criminals that you could possible imagine..”

“The alternative is that we never try him, that we just indefinitely hold him,” she concluded. “I would prefer him to be convicted of the crime he committed.”

Blunt, however, holds a different view: “This suspect is an enemy combatant and trying him in the United States as if he had the protective rights of an American citizen would be a mistake.”

“The effort that went into capturing this suspect is a great example of what American forces can do when they’re allowed to do their job,” he said. “The next step is that we need to get every bit of information we can from this terrorist and enemy of the United States and its citizens.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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