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Obama administration seeks war authorization against Islamic State

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Next: the fight against the Islamic State group, from the front lines to the halls of Congress.

    Shiite militias and Iraqi troops closed in today on Islamic State militants in Saddam Hussein's hometown.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    Our security troops have started advancing towards the center of Tikrit. We started clearing the neighborhoods close to the city center.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Just 80 miles north of Baghdad, Tikrit lies on the main road to Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, still held by ISIS, or ISIL.

    In their largest offensive yet, Iraqi forces have been advancing on Tikrit and surrounding villages for more than a week. American airpower has played no role because the Shiite militias dominate the attacking force, and they're backed by Iran.

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: They're going to run ISIL out of Tikrit.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    U.S. military leaders welcome the advance, but they also warn of possible Shiite reprisals against Sunnis.

    General Martin Dempsey chairs the Joint Chiefs.

  • GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY:

    The question is what comes after in terms of whether they work to restore the basic services that are going to be necessary or whether it results in atrocities and retribution.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Dempsey and the secretaries of state and defense went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning. They were there to seek authorization for a war that's already been under way for seven months against ISIS forces.

    The president has ordered thousands of airstrikes and dispatched 3,000 ground troops to train Iraqis. But he doesn't want Americans directly involved in the fighting. That priority highlighted stark divisions between Democrats and Republicans.

    SEN. BOB CORKER, Chair, Committee on Foreign Relations: What that does on this side of the aisle is put Republican senators in the position of looking at a limited authorization for the use of military force that, in some ways, ratifies a strategy, especially in Syria, that many people do not believe is effective.

    SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, (D) New Jersey: Clearly, there's a need to define exactly what would be allowed. And it would seem to me that, legally, there is at least the potential for large numbers of U.S. troops to be deployed in Iraq and Syria, and maybe beyond, with the authorization as submitted.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Indeed, Secretary of State John Kerry said there is no geographic limitation confining operations to Iraq and Syria. That, he argued, would only aid the militants he called Da'esh, using their Arabic acronym.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: What a mistake it would be to send the message to Da'esh that there are safe havens, that there is somehow just a two-country limitation.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Fighting also continues in Northern Iraq, along a 650-mile battle line. Last summer, ISIS came within 20 miles of the Kurdish regional capital, Irbil.

    But Kurdish Peshmerga, backed by thunderous coalition airstrikes, have now retaken land just West of Kirkuk, leading the fight, the president of the semiautonomous Kurdistan regional government, Masoud Barzani. Initially, his forces received little of the U.S. arms that flowed to Baghdad, but Chairman Dempsey told Colorado Republican Cory Gardner today that could be changing.

  • GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY:

    We think we have we have managed our way through that.

    REP. CORY GARDNER, (R) Colorado: And so, right now, you feel confident that the process which we have — arms will reach Irbil has now being settled and resolved?

  • GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY:

    I am confident that we broke through the initial friction, but it doesn't mean it won't reoccur.

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