WASHINGTON - House Speaker John Boehner said today that the United States should provide more equipment and other aid to the Iraqi government in its battle against al-Qaida militants, but he ruled out a reintroduction of U.S. troops for now.
The Republican leader said President Barack Obama must get more involved in helping Iraq as it seeks to reclaim two cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, overrun by al-Qaida fighters. Boehner said the U.S. has a vital national interest in Iraq and warned that the progress made by American forces before troops were withdrawn after nine years of war is being threatened.
"I think the president himself ought to take a more active role in dealing with the issues in Iraq," Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at his weekly news conference. "Secondly, we need to get equipment to the Iraqis and other services that would help them battle this counterterrorism effort that they're attempting to do. There are things that we can do to help the Iraqis that do not involve putting U.S. troops on the ground."
Pressed on whether he thought U.S. troops should be sent back to Iraq, Boehner said he didn't think "that is called for at this point in time."
The Obama administration has ruled out sending American troops back in, but has been delivering missiles to help bolster Iraqi forces, and more are on the way.
At a separate news conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the U.S. would assist Iraq but ruled out sending American troops back. "They're home. The American people are glad. They're coming back from Afghanistan," Reid said.
Boehner did not specify what aid the U.S. should provide, but his office cited the sale of military equipment that Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has been blocking for months.
Congressional aides said Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been holding up the sale of Apache helicopters and other equipment to Iraq because of concerns the Iraqi government could use the materiel for internal crackdowns instead of national defense.
Menendez and other senators also have been demanding that Iraq exert tighter control over its airspace to prevent Iran from sending war goods to Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.