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Pocan: Obama needs input from Congress on ISIS
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MONROE - U.S. Representative Mark Pocan, D-Madison, made a firm response to President Barack Obama's announcement Friday that the United States would hunt down Islamic State militants in Iraq and "take out" their leaders with the goal of dismantling the organization.

"He needs to make sure Congress has a say in it," Pocan told The Monroe Times. Pocan said he bases his stance on following constitutional procedures.

"We do have a Constitution," he added.

Pocan was in Monroe on Friday, touring the Blackhawk Technical College with campus director Matt Urban. Obama made his comment during a news conference at the NATO summit at Celtic Manor in Newport, Wales.

Pocan said he would need to be "fully briefed" about military operations before he would be "fully sold" on any strategic strikes in Syria, against the Islamic State militants spreading across eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq.

He expects Congress will be briefed when members return to Washington next week, and he will be looking for indications that ISIS would be a direct threat to the U.S. border and for "hard evidence."

"None of this non-existent weapons of mass destruction," he said, a not-so-subtle reminder that Congress acted on mostly false claims that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and connections to al-Qaida terrorists, made by President George W. Bush and his administration to justify entering into the Iraq War in March 2003.

Congress agreed to send humanitarian aid to the Syrian region before going on break in August, but Pocan said escalations in Syria require more talking now. A year ago, talks about going into Syria meant going in against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; now, entering into the Syrian war could mean helping Assad, he said.

"We have to be patient and smart in this process," Pocan noted, "and thoughtful" when and where the U.S. enters into partnerships with other countries.

The U.S. and 10 of its key allies on Friday agreed that the Islamic State group is a significant threat to NATO countries and that they will take on the militants by squeezing their financial resources and going after them with military might. Obama noted that the moderate Syrian rebels fighting both the group and the government of Assad are "outgunned and outmanned." He also pressed Arab allies to reject the "nihilism" projected by the ISIS group.

"I think it is absolutely critical that we have Arab states and specifically Sunni-majority states that are rejecting the kind of extremist nihilism that we're seeing out of ISIL, that say that is not what Islam is about and are prepared to join us actively in the fight," Obama said.

Pocan believes ISIS's acts of violence most recently, particularly in the beheading of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, are its attempts to engage the U.S. in war.

"There has to be more reason than just beheading," he said. "They want to be a major player (in the world) and a power in the region."

The acts of violence also help rally their own troops, and ISIS has become the most well-financed terrorist group the region has seen so far, Pocan said.

But Pocan said they have "not raised the ire of Congress yet" - at least, not noticeably.

While taking military action is still a question to ponder, Pocan is interested in pursuing some non-military, counter-terrorism action, such as one British Prime Minister David Cameron proposed on Monday.

Cameron officially asked the House of Commons to agree to seize passports of suspected British jihadists leaving the country and controlling where they can move within the country. He said his proposed legislation would give police officers temporary power to seize passports at the border.

It was one of several temporary measures he proposed last week. The other proposals are to tighten aviation security by demanding airlines submit passenger flight lists, or not be allowed to land, and to exclude British nationals from returning to Britain.

Cameron is asking for the changes essentially to prevent attacks on Britain by Islamist militants coming and going for terror training in the Middle East. He said, to date, 500 people from the UK have left the country to fight in Iraq and Syria; 700 have left France to fight; and Germany has seen 400 people exit to join religious extremists.

The U.S. believes about a dozen Americans are fighting with ISIS in Syria, part of a larger group of more than 100 American who have joined various rebel groups in the country, the Pentagon reported this week.

Britain recently upgraded its terror alert from substantial to severe.