Congressmen to reconsider separate funding for Iraq factions

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BAGHDAD (AP) — Congress may reconsider a provision in an upcoming bill funding the training of the Iraqi army that would also send weapons directly to Arab Sunnis and Kurds, a congressman visiting Baghdad said Sunday.

However Rep. Michael T. McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security visiting Baghdad with seven other members, said following meetings with the Iraqi government that Congress would still seek a way to ensure the Sunnis and Kurds fighting the Islamic State group would receive weapons.

"I think there is a way to streamline the process of getting the weapons to both the Sunni tribes and the (Kurdish) peshmerga, where it is desperately needed to defeat ISIS, while at the same time not undermining the government of Iraq in Baghdad," McCaul told The Associated Press, referring to the Islamic State by an acronym.

On Wednesday, influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia was once a major force, threatened to attack U.S. interests if the original provision, which would divert 25 percent of the $715 million defense bill to train the Iraqi army, passed.

Al-Sadr's statement precipitated a cascade of condemnations by members of the Shiite-dominated government and its allied militias.

Al-Abadi said he brought up the issue with Vice President Joe Biden in a phone conversation, warning that such a provision would undermine the country's sovereignty, according to the prime minister's website Sunday.

The provision stems from concerns that the Iraqi government is withholding weapons from the Kurdish peshmerga forces, which are bearing the brunt of the fight against the Islamic State in the north.

The U.S. would also like to see Sunni tribesmen armed and brought into the fight but the Shiite-dominated government doesn't trust them.

The United States has already spent billions arming and training the Iraqi military, but it performed poorly last year when Islamic State militants swept across western and northern Iraq, routing four divisions.

For the U.S. to bypass the central government in distributing weapons, however, was seen by critics as a threat to the country's national unity.

Instead McCaul said Congress would look into ways to ensure the central government would provide the necessary weapons to these forces in a timely manner.

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