Republicans expressed increasing frustration with President Obama for failing to move decisively to stop a Sunni-aligned terrorist group that has gained control of key cities in Iraq and is clashing with the Shiite controlled government for control of Baghdad.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, in an interview with ABC News on Sunday criticized Obama for making a statement Friday in front of Marine One saying he would weigh his options and make a decision in the coming days then heading off for a scheduled trip to North Dakota and California.
“This is a crisis,” he said. “It does [need] a response, not going to Palm Springs for a fundraiser."
McCaul said he spoke to Ryan Crocker, who served as ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, Saturday and Crocker characterized the threat from sectarian violence in Iraq as the “greatest national security threat since 9/11.”
“Al Qaeda owns more territory, more resources, and what's happening in Iraq now is really chaotic,” he said.
McCaul also blamed the violent clashes in Iraq on the Obama administration's inability to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq, a deal with the government to allow a residual troops to remain there, and pulling all troops out of Iraq at the end of 2011.
After the al Qaeda group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria seized two major cities this week and threatened to march on Baghdad, Obama on Friday signaled that the U.S. may help try to stabilize Iraq in the coming days but ultimately the country would need to solve its own problems.
In the coming days Obama said he would decide whether to intervene militarily, which could include launching airstrikes or sending in military advisers, only ruling out putting boots on the ground.
But Obama stressed that the internal turmoil facing Iraq could only be solved by making major political reforms. Any U.S. action, he said, would depend on whether Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki commits to bring the Sunnis back into the government, along with other changes.
Al-Maliki refused to sign a Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S. to maintain a residual level of U.S. troops in the country after 2011. After the U.S. left, he quickly moved to consolidate Shiite power and marginalize Sunni political and military leaders.
"This should be a wake-up call" for Iraqi leaders, Obama said, adding that they need to make serious compromises in order to bring its people together.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said chocking up the violence to sectarian clashes is wrong-headed because ISIS is an extreme al Qaeda group that is gaining ground and military power as never before.
"This whole notion that Sunni versus Shia is wrong. Not every Sunni has joined al-Qaida. We have an al-Qaida problem," he told Fox News' Chris Wallace. "That's what we have today, in a scale that we've never seen before."
When the U.S. turns its head and ignores terrorist uprisings in the Middle East, it comes back to haunt America, Rogers said.
"Remember, when we didn't do anything after 1993, the World Trade bombing, it led them to the 1998 Eastern African embassy bombing -- U.S. embassies in Africa, killed hundreds. Then [terrorists targeted the] USS Cole killing U.S. sailors in Yemen, less than a year after no action and saying, well, this is really not our fight, we had 9/11 kill 3,000 Americans," he said.
Calling on the Arab League, a group of regional countries dominated by countries relatively friendly toward the United States, to step in to assist with intelligence and military forces, he said ISIS "now has the capability to tap people with Western passports to send them back to Europe and the United States for terrorist activity."
"That's a problem for us," he added.