Congressman Brian Higgins, a member of the House foreign affairs and homeland security committees, and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate foreign relations and armed services committees, along with additional members of Congress arrived Monday in Amman, Jordan, after spending three days in Kuwait and Iraq. Kaine is leading a congressional delegation to the region focused on the U.S. mission against ISIL and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria.
In Kuwait City on Saturday, the delegation paid its respects at the Grand Mosque to national officials and families impacted by the Friday ISIL bombing that claimed 27 lives and injured hundreds more.
"In recent days we have seen the horror of a violent attack in a house of worship in Charleston. In Kuwait City, the seven of us attended events where we offered our condolences to the people of Kuwait following the horrific attack on the Imam Sadiq Mosque. The alliance between the United States and Kuwait is deeply important to both nations and we stand with our friends at this difficult time," the congressional delegation said Saturday.
Sunday, the delegation traveled to Erbil and met with Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani and Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, as well as a group of humanitarian leaders. President Barzani and Prime Minister Barzani thanked the U.S. and coalition partners for critical airstrikes and noted the growing threat from ISIL. The delegation emphasized the importance of close Erbil-Baghdad ties and commended the leaders for the Peshmerga's success against ISIL and for its support to internally displaced persons. It also reiterated a deep appreciation to local leaders in Erbil, including Archbishop Warda of the Chaldean Catholic Church, for the valuable role these individuals are playing in providing critical humanitarian assistance.
Later, the delegation visited the Combined Joint Operations Center to learn more about counter-ISIL operations and the coalition's support of the train and equip program. The Erbil-based CJOC is responsible for coordinating coalition air support with ground combatants in Kurdistan involved in the mission against ISIL.
In Baghdad on Sunday evening, the delegation met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss efforts to build a more unified and inclusive government representative of all Iraqis. The delegation stressed the importance of the partnership between the U.S. and Iraq and noted the United States' strong support to Government of Iraq-led efforts to defeat ISIL.
On Monday, the delegation met with Iraqi Minister of Defense Khaled al-Obeidi, Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Salim al-Jabouri, Anbar Governor Rawi and other Sunni tribal leaders to hear their perspectives on the current successes and challenges to national reconciliation efforts, including decentralization and economic issues, and winning the battle against ISIL. Throughout the meetings, the delegation stressed the importance of prioritizing Sunni engagement, bringing all armed groups under the control of the central government and guarding against Iranian influence.
The elected leaders also met with U.S. servicemembers and foreign service officers from Virginia and other delegation members' states to listen to their impressions from their time in Iraq and to thank them for their service and sacrifice - especially when being so far from loved ones.
"Our two days in Iraq provided a close-up view of the fight against ISIL and the support the United States and Coalition partners are providing to help Iraq defeat this major Sunni terrorist threat," Kaine said. "Because the success of the mission depends heavily on the efforts of the Abadi government to repair the sectarian divisions fomented by the government of former Prime Minister Maliki, we emphasize the need for inclusion at every opportunity.
"The appreciation expressed for American support was notable, particularly in Erbil, where President Obama's decision to initiate airstrikes last August was recognized as critical to the survival of the Kurdish Regional Government."
Tomorrow, the delegation will travel to Turkey, including a visit to Ankara.
Other delegation members include Sen. Joe Donnelly, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and congressmen Jim McGovern, Stephen Lynch and Peter Welch.