Washington scrambles in wake of Iraq crisis - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

Washington scrambles in wake of Iraq crisis

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Al-Qaida-linked militants have taken Iraq's second largest city and other key towns in their drive for  Baghdad. (Source: FOX) Al-Qaida-linked militants have taken Iraq's second largest city and other key towns in their drive for Baghdad. (Source: FOX)

WASHINGTON, DC (FOX) - President Barack Obama's beleaguered Middle East strategy took another big hit on Wednesday when a second major Iraqi city fell to al-Qaida-linked insurgents. This time it was Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.

On Tuesday it was Mosul.

Aides to Obama fended off questions about whether he pulled out of Baghdad too quickly.

State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said the losses did not amount to a failure of policy.

"I would strongly disagree with that," she said.

They did admit that the administration is worried U.S. weapons given to the Iraqi government have fallen into the hands of the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq militants.

"We're looking into what equipment or materials they may have seized," Psaki said.

A sharp contrast to what incoming White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said just Tuesday, when asked to list the president's top foreign policy accomplishments.

"Ending the war in Iraq, and winding down, in responsible fashion, the war in Afghanistan. And doing that after the success of, of our efforts to dismantle and destroy al-Qaida core," Earnest said.

Except that record came under attack from Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who wrote the capture of Mosul is "an alarm bell that violent extremists are on the rise again in the Middle East."

And Ignatius claimed in retrospect, Republican Mitt Romney was right about al-Qaida in the 2012 campaign.

"It's (al-Qaida) certainly not on the run. It's certainly not hiding. This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 20 countries," Romney said.

"We ended the war in Iraq, refocused our attention on those who actually killed us on 9/11. And as a consequence, al-Qaida's core leadership has been decimated," Obama said.

On Wednesday, the president's national security adviser, Susan Rice, continued to re-calibrate.

"Core al-Qaida is diminished. But its affiliates and offshoots increasingly threaten the United States and our partners as we're witnessing this week in Mosul," she said.

As Republicans note the setbacks are mounting across the Middle East.

"The administration unfortunately continues to hide behind classified briefings and those kind of things, and is unable to lay out a coherent strategy for the region," said U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN.

That trouble continues in Syria, with top administration officials acknowledging the violence there is influencing extremists in neighboring Iraq.

And even the president's former ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, broke with the president and urged that the U.S. finally arm the opposition in Syria.

Ford writing in The New York Times, "as the situation in Syria deteriorated, I found it ever harder to justify our policy."

The U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning to American citizens to stay out of Iraq while a curfew has now been imposed in Baghdad as the militants edge closer to the capitol city. Iraq's foreign minister on Wednesday called the situation in the nation a "mortal crisis."

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