Some Senators Say Prime Minister May Need to Be Replaced as Part of Crisis Resolution
WASHINGTON—U.S. lawmakers Tuesday expressed frustration with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki amid the growing sectarian violence in Iraq, suggesting he may need to be replaced as part of any resolution to the crisis.
Lawmakers said President Barack Obama's decision to bolster the U.S. embassy in Baghdad with 275 additional troops was appropriate, but said the administration needed to explain its strategy to respond to Sunni militants' takeover of a number of Iraqi regions.
"My concern is whether we're going to do anything besides send a few extra Marines, which won't do anything," Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) told reporters Tuesday morning.
Mr. McCain added that the U.S. should send emissaries to Baghdad to "work with Maliki and tell him he's got to step down and have a coalition government."
Mr. Maliki, who has held his position since 2006, has come under increasing international pressure to quell the sectarian conflict. His government has been accused by Sunni and Kurdish politicians of fanning tensions between rival ethnic and religious groups by favoring hard-line Shiite officials.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said "Yes I do," when asked whether she thinks Mr. Mailiki needs to be replaced.
The Iraqi government has begun taking steps to respond to the sweep of militants across the country, with forces loyal to Mr. Maliki moving Tuesday to repel an attempt to capture a strategic province roughly 40 miles from Baghdad.
U.S. lawmakers, particularly Republicans, have been calling on the White House to more aggressively respond to the crisis. Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) said the violence wouldn't have spread so quickly if a residual NATO force had been present in the country.
"The question is whether air strikes would work," Ms. Collins said.
Mr. McCain said the U.S. should definitely conduct air strikes on militants, as well as have "a few boots on the ground" including, potentially, special-forces troops.
"So far we've done nothing of any significance to change the momentum of these people who are taking over large portions of Iraq," Mr. McCain said.
By Michael R. Crittenden, Updated June 17, 2014 2:06 p.m. ET