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Coats, Hagel spar over U.S. response on Iraq

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel argued Wednesday over how and when the Obama administration should have responded to sectarian violence that threatens the U.S.-supported government in Iraq.

During a hearing by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense that was webcast by the panel, Coats asked Hagel whether the White House “should have some response other than no response, at least to this point?”

Hagel replied, “Well, I don’t think it’s a matter of no response.”

Coats: “No response that’s making a difference.”

Hagel: “Well, I’m not sure of that. … The president is meeting with congressional leadership this afternoon” in a classified meeting.

Coats: “Do you think it’s too late? I mean, we’ve already lost territory, (insurgents have) already gained control of the second largest city in Iraq, other cities that we lost blood and treasure and people lost limbs and died to save (during the 2003-2011 war). We’ve already lost it. …”

Hagel: “We ought to be clear: It wasn’t the United States that lost anything (since the exit of American troops) … We have done everything we could to help ’em. But it’s up to the Iraqis. They wanted to manage and govern their own country. So I don’t think we should assign the blame to the United States for this. … This current government in Iraq has never fulfilled the commitments it made to bring a unity government together with the Sunnis, the Kurds and the Shia. We have worked hard with them within the confines of our ability to help ’em do that, but we can’t dictate to them.”

Coats: “ … I’m not advocating any specific military action. But (Iraqis are) looking for leadership. They’d like to know somebody’s got their back. I think it might have been easier for those soldiers to shed their uniforms and run because they didn’t have anybody at their back. …”

Hagel: “Well, when we’re not there, we’re not there. I mean, I don’t know what you would have expected the United States to do.”

Coats: “Well, I would hope we could get somewhere."

Hagel: “Well, we are. That’s what we’ve been doing the last week” in classified briefings with members of Congress.

Coats suggested that President Barack Obama address Congress and the nation “and let us know where we are.”