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The Marietta Daily Journal | U.S. Rep. Loudermilk talks Turkey, Iraq, Israel
U.S. Rep. Loudermilk Talks Turkey, Iraq, and Israel
MARIETTA — Freshman U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk’s trip to the Middle East as part of a Congressional delegation reminds him somewhat of running for office.
“The intensity is very much like a campaign,” the Cassville Republican said. “The last couple of stops, we hadn’t even totally unpacked all of our bags. … It’s one meeting after the next after the next, (then) get on a plane to the next stop.”
Speaking to the MDJ from Berlin, Loudermilk said the trip — through Israel, Iraq, Turkey and Europe as part of the House Homeland Security Committee’s task force on foreign fighters — has been surreal at times.
“It’s pretty amazing when you walk into a room and you’re meeting with the prime minister of a nation or you’re meeting with the general secretary of a nation’s defense or the head of their homeland security — the key decision makers of Middle Eastern and European nations — you stop and you think for a minute, you know, this is the real world here,” he said. “What we say and do makes a difference.”
Loudermilk said the purpose of the trip, his first to the Middle East as a congressman, is to learn about the issues involving fighters from the self-proclaimed Islamic State as well as terrorist organizations moving through the Middle East, Europe and possibly to the United States. The key to this issue is Turkey, Loudermilk said.
“Having Turkey do a better job of screening people that come into the country,” he said. “There’s been some reluctance there. They have improved from a year ago, but there’s a lot more improvements that they can do.”
Insurgents are coming to the Middle East from Europe through Turkey, Loudermilk said, so his delegation is meeting with heads of state from countries in both regions to encourage the sharing of information to increase security measures.
“We’re trying to get all these players to work together,” he said. “So it’s been a very busy few days and it will be through the end of this week.”
The U.S. already does a lot to contribute to tracking dangerous individuals across the world, Loudermilk said. For instance, the U.S. has compiled a watch list and a no-fly list using data from both American and foreign intelligence organizations.
“We actually share some of that data with other countries,” he said. “What we’re asking is the other countries be more timely in sharing that information back to us. One of the real purposes of this trip is can we get these other players — what do they need so that they can share their data back to us?”
Loudermilk said while Turkey has improved its efforts to screen those coming into the country, they are not screening those leaving the country. Additionally, Interpol maintains a list of stolen or lost passports, but Turkey doesn’t use it.
“Someone may get through going into Syria, but coming back out of Syria, they’re not screening anyone,” Loudermilk said.
Officials from Turkey say they need more cooperation from European countries in terms of intelligence and data, Loudermilk said, but at the same time, the U.S. is asking Turkey to step up its screening efforts and report more quickly to Europe and the U.S.
“We’re going together to try to encourage better sharing of information that we can get a handle on these foreign fighters because we know that we’re starting to see some of those come back and operating back in the United States,” Loudermilk said. “Now, some of them may have gone to Syria and become disillusioned and have come back here and they’re all peaceful now. But we do know that there’s been calls by ISIS to intensify on open attacks on Americans.”
The Islamic State claimed responsibility this week for a shooting in Garland, Texas, last weekend, in which two Americans opened fire at an event featuring cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. It is the first time the extremists have claimed responsibility for an attack in the U.S., but some anti-terrorist experts doubt the claim.
Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the Associated Press that evidence does not indicate the attack was orchestrated by the Islamic State, “but rather inspired by them. This is the textbook case of what we’re most concerned about.”
Iraq, the Islamic State and Israel
During meetings with members of the Iraqi government, Loudermilk said he heard several times that the U.S. pulled its troops out of the country too soon.
“They’re willing to work with us, but ISIS was 20 miles outside of Baghdad when our delegation was there. The biggest thing we heard from the president of Iraq was that we pulled our forces out too soon and the Iraqi army has been decimated and is not going to be able to continue holding back ISIS at the level of intensity that they’re seeing out of ISIS now."
While some believe the Islamic State is gaining traction, Loudermilk said, there are also those who believe the group’s expansion will slow now that it has captured the “low-hanging fruit” in the region.
Leaders in Iraq’s government want U.S. ground forces to help in the fight against the Islamic State, Loudermilk said, but “there was no direct ask” for U.S. troops.
Loudermilk said deploying U.S. forces back to Iraq would be a difficult choice to make.
“They realize we’re not in a position to do that, but they definitely would be open for us sending troops in. Whether we should or not, I think we’re going to have to really analyze that.”
While on the trip, Loudermilk said he learned of a key difference between a terrorism organization such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State.
“Al-Qaida existed to wreak havoc and launch attacks and evil against the United States and other Western countries,” Loudermilk said. “That was their purpose: to launch terrorist attacks. ISIS, their purpose is to establish a worldwide caliphate. They are a governing organization. Wherever they have taken territory, they are actually establishing governments. They have a military arm; they have a political arm. On the political side, they’re building a society. In fact, they offer free health care. That is beginning to attract doctors, Western doctors, who are now saying, ‘Hey, maybe this is the time that we’re going to establish the true Islamic State.’”
Loudermilk said the most pleasant conversation he has had on his trip was with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which was also one of the few meetings he attended thus far that didn’t require a translator.
Netanyahu’s biggest concern was a pending nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S. and other world powers, Loudermilk said.
“What Netanyahu is saying is if you lift the sanctions, that will cause their economy to grow, which will cause them to have more money to feed more terrorist organizations and expand their terrorism well beyond what they can do right now,” Loudermilk said.
Loudermilk said the negotiations with Iran were based on trust, but Iran has repeatedly shown it cannot be trusted.
“I don’t think we should be negotiating with terrorists, and they are clearly a terrorist state,” Loudermilk said. “They’re bad players. They want the same thing that ISIS wants. Iran wants to dominate the entire Middle East, if not the entire world. One thing that Mr. Netanyahu said over and over and over again is you are not trying to domesticate a cat. You’re trying to domesticate a tiger. You can’t do it. It’ll turn around and devour you.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report