(CNSNews.com) – A State Department official who just returned from a seven-week trip to Iraq, said the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) is no longer just a terrorist group.
“ISIL is no longer simply a terrorist organization,” Brett McGurk, deputy assistant secretary for Iraq and Iran at the U.S. Department of State, said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday. “It is now a full-blown army seeking to establish a self-governing state through the Tigris and Euphrates Valley in what is now Syria and Iraq.”
ISIS continues to expand its hold on territory in Iraq, including overtaking the city of Mosul on June 10. Since then, the Sunni extremists have targeted Christians who are reportedly being told they have three choices: Convert to Islam, pay a fine or be killed. As a result, most, if not all, Christians have fled the city.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the committee, said the Obama administration testified six months ago before the same committee about the threat posed by ISIS, but no action has been taken to thwart its advance.
At the hearing, which focused on the U.S. response to developments in Iraq, McGurk said the State Department has acted “along three parallel tracks.”
“First, and most importantly, we worked to ensure the security of our own personnel and facilities,” McGurk said. “Second, in parallel, we both relocated and surged U.S. diplomatic, intelligence, and military resources to develop strategic options for the president with real-time and accurate information.
“Third, we worked with Iraqi officials to strengthen their defenses of strategic locations, and set the political process on track, with a focus on forming a new government following national elections,” McGurk said.
Iraq's Shiite President Nouri al-Maliki has come under increasing pressure to step down, with critics accusing him of monopolizing power at the expense of the country's Sunni and Kurdish minorities. He has vowed to remain in the post he has held since 2006, and his bloc won the most votes in April elections, the Associated Press reported.
In his opening remarks, McGurk said ISIS or ISIL is “worse than al Qaeda” and a threat to the United States.
“ISIL is al Qaeda,” McGurk said, adding that this is the case even if it changed its name or leadership. “But it is al Qaeda in its doctrine, ambition and increasingly in its threat to U.S. interests.
“In fact, it is worse than al Qaeda,” McGurk said.
“The situation in Iraq remains extremely serious,” McGurk said in the conclusion of his prepared remarks. “While our immediate crisis response may have blunted the initial security crisis, ISIL represents a growing threat to U.S. interests in the region, local populations, and the homeland.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Baghdad on Thursday, urging lawmakers to "find a common ground" so they can address the crisis sparked by the rapid advance of the Islamic State extremist group and allied Sunni militants across much of northern and western Iraq last month, the Associated Press reported.
Ban said Iraq is facing an "existential threat" that could be overcome if it forms a "thoroughly inclusive government."