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GOP senator says U.S. air strikes 'part of diplomacy' in Iraq

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks to supporters after winning the Republican primary, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Columbia, S.C. Graham defeated six tea party challengers and avoided a runoff. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt) AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday that U.S. air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are part of the U.S. diplomatic response the Obama administration should be pursuing in Iraq.

Graham explained that while many are calling for a diplomatic effort to heal the Shia-Sunni fighting in that country, diplomacy is impossible while ISIS is marching on Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., says diplomacy in Iraq will only be possible after airstrikes that fend off ISIS forces. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

"Give me a scenario where we put these folks on the run in Syria and in Iraq without American air power," he said. "Give me a scenario where political reconciliation in Baghdad has a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding as long as they're losing on the battlefield."

As a result, the U.S. needs to use air strikes to help create the conditions for talks.

"American air power is part of diplomacy. That may sound counterintuitive, but it makes perfect sense to me," he said.

"Diplomacy cannot succeed unless you change the momentum on the battlefield. But when you drop a bomb, you need to have a game plan beyond the bomb falling, and that would be a regional conversation."

Graham spoke just as many members of Congress have become more vocal about the need to remove Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki's Shia background has led many to the conclusion that he is the wrong man to lead war-torn Iraq out of sectarian strife.

Graham and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) both agreed that a new leader in Iraq is needed. McCain said Maliki "has to agree to a transition," and Graham said the U.S. should send no further aid to the country until it's made clear that Maliki's time is over.

"I would not send one dollar to Iraq, I would not send one soldier to Iraq, one airman to Iraq until we understand over the arc of time, Maliki's got to go," Graham said. "Maliki did some good things on his watch, but he has become a political leader that cannot bring the country together."

Immediately afterwards, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said he too supports Maliki's removal.

"One of the things that I agree with the senior senator from Arizona is that Maliki needs to go," he said. "Otherwise, I think Iraq is going to blow apart and it's going to end up in three parts."

On Tuesday, a House Democrat, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), blamed President George W. Bush for installing Maliki, and said even Bush couldn't negotiate effectively with him.

"To say that President Obama should be able to negotiate a long-term agreement with Maliki when President Bush was unable to do so is utterly absurd," he said.

On Tuesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said a political discussion is needed in Iraq that involves Maliki's departure.

“Maliki really probably needs to go," he said. "We need somebody of serious stature to be able to tell him that, so that they can get a unity government to start taking away this Shia-Sunni problem that’s developing or is there already."

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