U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann on Friday urged caution in responding to the rapid advance of militants who have taken control of a wide swath of Iraq and are pressing on toward Baghdad.
Fleischmann was in Oak Ridge during the annual two-day Secret City Festival.
The militants are known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The Sunni organization was once part of Al Qaeda, and it has effectively gained control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria during the past year, including Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. There have been battles in Baquba, less than 40 miles north of Baghdad.
Now, the United States and other countries are struggling with how to respond. Among the options that have been proposed are airstrikes and working with Iran to repel the rebels.
But there are a range of concerns about a renewed American involvement, ranging from possible civilian deaths to creating the perception that the United States is siding with Shiite Muslims to fight Sunnis.
“This is a very tumultuous region,” said Fleischmann, a Republican whose district includes Oak Ridge. “We’ve got to proceed with caution.”
He said America has only one steadfast ally in the region: Israel.
He cited a series of wars, revolutions, civil wars, and the Arab Spring protests of a few years ago across the Middle East and North Africa in countries from Egypt to Afghanistan.
He said the situation in Iraq should be monitored carefully, and federal officials need to listen to the American people.
“I’m concerned about the entire region,” the congressman said.
The crisis in Iraq is still in its early stages, and Fleischmann said there will be consequences for any American involvement.
“This part of the world is a powder keg,” he said.
Fleischmann said it’s a time for Americans to come together, and he hopes the U.S. can bring peace to Iraq.