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GOP Lawmakers Call for Airstrikes on Iraq to Counter ISIS Threat

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Republican lawmakers called Sunday for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq to counter this week’s insurgent offensive led by a militant Islamic group once allied with Al Qaeda.

The extremist Sunni Muslim group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, otherwise known as ISIS, captured two major cities in Iraq last week and is heading toward Baghdad. On Sunday, militants posted pictures on social media it claimed showed a massacre of thousands of captured Iraqi soldiers.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R—S.C.) said on CNN’s State of the Union that he supports the use of airstrikes to stop the group’s expansion and that Syria and Iraq will become “the staging area for the next 9/11″ if action isn’t taken.

“If Baghdad falls, if the central government falls, a disaster awaits us of monumental proportions,” he said.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) sided with Graham, calling the rise of ISIS the “worst-case scenario” for the U.S. He also said airstrikes were necessary to halt the insurgents’ activity during his State of the Union appearance, as a first step.

“I don’t think [airstrikes are] necessarily the panacea.” Kinzinger said. “The U.S. military is not some weak animal…and we have got to go in there. Work on a political solution with Iraq and push back this very evil organization, ISIS, and give some breathing space to the Iraqi government to do what it needs to do.”

President Obama has not ruled out airstrikes in Iraq, saying Friday he is still weighing “selective actions” by the American military but stating firmly that no U.S. troops would be sent to intervene. But Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D—Hawaii) said airstrikes would not be a good idea, appearing on the same program that morning.

“We do have the fiercest, strongest military in the world,” she said. “We also have the responsibility to very careful about how and where we use that military force. It is not in our U.S. interest to go and involve ourselves in the middle of what is a religious civil war.”

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said on NBC’s Meet the Press that the expansion of ISIS creates a breeding ground for terrorists that poses threats not just to the U.S., but to other countries in the region.

“Clearly, if they can get this sanctuary in the northeast, in Syria, in Iraq, it makes this, in effect, a privileged sanctuary to attack the United States,” he said. “[That’s] apart from the destabilization they can do throughout the Middle East, especially throughout the countries Jordan and Israel.”

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Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com