The defeat of resurgent Islamic militant groups in western Iraq requires increased support from the United States, according to members of Congress and the Obama administration.
"If we don't want to see Iraq with large swaths of territory under militant control, and we shouldn't, we must be willing to lend an appropriate hand," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said at a hearing on Wednesday.
The California Republican's committee heard from Brett McGurk, deputy assistant of secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, about the dominance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Anbar province – site of a long and bloody battle for U.S. forces during the Iraq war.
"ISIL is an army," McGurk said. "They have heavy weapons, they have 50 caliber sniper rifles, they are very well trained and very well fortified so we have to have the Sunnis, local tribal people, out in front. But they will require security support."
The cities of Ramadi and Fallujah have fallen under the control of violent jihadist groups over the past six months, and away from the central government in Baghdad.
And members of the committee were quick to point the finger at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for allowing militants to freely operate.
"Al Qaeda's resurgence is directly related to Prime Minister Maliki's mishandling of his government," Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, said. "Incompetence and corruption seem to be the norm. He's centralized power, alienated the Sunnis, and brought back Shia hit squads."
Al Qaeda disavowed ISIL's place within its affiliate structure earlier this week because of the group's brutal tactics within the territory it controls in Syria.
But with its leadership based in Syria where ISIL is involved in its own militant operations, McGurk said the United States is selling more advanced military hardware to the Iraqi government.
This takes the form of hellfire missiles and Apache helicopters in a bid to give the Iraqi military an edge in its efforts to root out ISIL from Iraqi territory.
Up to this point, the Iraqi military has flown its own fleet of helicopters that easily fall victim to machine guns and various type of anti-aircraft weaponry in operations directed at ISIL.
Including local Sunni tribes in Anbar into the police and military ranks of the Shiite-led Iraqi government to battle terrorists will also be critical, McGurk said.
"Unless you enlist local Sunnis in those areas, you will never defeat and isolate ISIL," he said. "They may not like the government, they may not even trust the army, but they really don't like these foreign jihadist fighters. So we are trying to gather common cause against them."
There is "no discussion" within the Obama administration to deploy American military aircraft to assist the Iraqi government, McGurk said. But he added the United States was considering offering training support to the Iraqi military possibly "in Jordan or in the region."
At the same time, the administration is growing more frustrated with continued use of Iraqi airspace for Iran to fly military equipment to Hezbollah, its proxy in Lebanon supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"The issue with overflights is something where the Iraqi government has not done enough," McGurk said as he recounted conversations with al-Maliki on the issue. "I think we have given him enough information to provide a reasonable assurance."
McGurk added the United States believes the Iraqi government has resisted efforts by Iran to establish a direct security role inside the country.