Defense authorization bill addresses Syria, Iraq

Pfc. Jon Peace, left, an infantry trainer, instructs an Iraqi trainee on Jan. 7, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mike Lavigne)
Pfc. Jon Peace, left, an infantry trainer, instructs an Iraqi trainee on Jan. 7, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mike Lavigne)

On May 15, the House passed their annual defense authorization bill and it heads now to the Senate. As approved in the House, the bill authorizes $715 million to train and equip Iraqi forces, including Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Sunni tribal forces. The bill also authorizes $531 million to train and equip Syria opposition forces, less than the $600 million requested by the Obama administration.

The only conditionality applied to these funds by the bill comes from an amendment by Rep. Nolan (D-Minn.) that was adopted, prohibiting funds from going to recipients who have previously lost or misused equipment. This amendment was the most watered down of three amendments offered by Rep. Nolan, one of which would have stopped funding for the programs altogether, and another that would have cut funds to those known to have committed human rights violations.

The Syria and Iraq “train and equip” programs continue the flawed assumption that the problem is that the U.S. has not gotten involved enough in the wars in Syria and Iraq. But as many of Mennonite Central Committee’s partner organizations in the Middle East make clear, further militarization will only serve to intensify the war and put civilians at further risk.

Also approved as part of the legislation was an amendment by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to study the feasibility of establishing a no-fly zone or “safe zones” in Syria.

These options may sound tempting as a way to alleviate the suffering of civilians, but in reality, establishing and enforcing a no-fly zone would almost certainly escalate the war. It would require significant U.S. military involvement, including a huge investment of U.S. resources and personnel.

Learn more: MCC’s response to the Syria and Iraq crisis | To the president, at war with Islamic State

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