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Monday, April 23 News

At Westport forum, Murphy, Himes urge caution on ISIS

While they believe that deeper U.S. military involvement in Iraq may not be wise, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes invited feedback on the issue from constituents during a Monday forum at Town Hall.

Himes and Murphy, both Democrats from Connecticut, held a question-and-answer forum here on the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and what the American response should be.

"We have a chance at keeping a lid on the conflict, but that can't be a solution in the long run," Murphy said of the escalating conflict among factions throughout the region.

"The question is: Can the United States stop it, and will we do more damage ... if we send back in an invading force?" he said.

"There is a large argument that injecting -- God forbid -- new U.S. troops and would just fan the flames of sectarian war, rather than quell them," Murphy said.

Himes concurred.

"A lot of times our policy is made by fear," he said. "Let's inject some facts," noting that ISIS was composed of a relatively small number of people -- approximately 10,000.

"They're an awful, awful group of people," Himes said, but he said the Iraqi military has about 400,000 soldiers in comparison, and it might be prudent to let them work through the conflict independently.

Taking an informal poll of the 50 or so attendees, the legislators heard only one person favor $500 million in aid to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while half of the room said the U.S. should provide only 200 additional military advisors.

Most were vocal in their opposition to sending in U.S. troops.

"If they're not willing to fight for their country, there's no reason that another American should shed a drop of blood," said Brian Marcey of Coventry, who served in Iraq with the U.S. Army.

"We bear some responsibility for what is happening there now," Murphy said, "(but) I believe that there are serious limitations about what the United States can do. I worry that we have not necessarily learned the limits of U.S. military power in terms of trying to influence."

Murphy and Himes said the worst thing the U.S. could do at this point would be to appear to take sides.

"We need to be very, very careful about not being perceived on one team or another," Himes said.

"As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I've been watching the situation quite closely and I will tell you that it is unbelievably complex," he said, noting that there were several extremist groups involved. "It's very complicated."

"I think what you're telling us is that no one has been able to articulate a successful path," said Brian Stern, a Board of Finance member. "This is the way we get into trouble, guys and want you, as our representatives, to stop this progression."

"Subject to your thoughts, my premise is that we have two very clear interests in the region," Himes said. He cited developing a relationship with an Iraqi government that abides by certain international laws and practices, and dissuading transnational terrorism.

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Several people became emotional in stating their opinions, including Richard Duffee of Stamford.

"I fail to see that we're not repeating ourselves and repeating history and the failures of the past," he said.

One man in attendance claimed the U.S. is training ISIS.

"We are in no way, shape or form training ISIS," Himes responded.

After the meeting, several people said they were pleased by the exploration of the issue by Himes and Murphy.

"I think they made a very good presentation," said Phyllis Behlen of Greenwich. "This is very complicated. This is very difficult."

"I'm honored to have these guys representing us," said Joe Gilgan of Fairfield. "They are well-informed. That's a very complex region, and they listen to their constituents."