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GOP senators call on Obama to withdraw nominee for ambassador to Iraq

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Seven Republican members of the Foreign Relations Committee are calling on President Obama to withdraw the nomination of Brett McGurk to be ambassador to Iraq after a string of steamy emails surfaced last week between Mr. McGurk and a reporter whom he later married.

The emails provide embarrassing evidence that Mr. McGurk was carrying on an extramarital affair with Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon when he was working at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad during President George W. Bush’s second term. Ms. Chon was forced to resign from the paper Tuesday because she violated in-house rules by showing Mr. McGurk unpublished stories.

The Republican senators, led by Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, wrote Mr. Obama on Wednesday expressing “strong concerns” about Mr. McGurk’s qualifications as well as his “unprofessional conduct.”

“Recent information has surfaced to call into question the prudence of moving forward with the nominee at this time,” the senators wrote. “We believe the nominee lacks the leadership and management experience necessary to head America’s largest embassy, in one of the world’s most volatile regions.”

Besides the inappropriate personal conduct, the senators criticized Mr. McGurk’s lead role in negotiating the 2011 Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq that left no residual U.S. troops in the country to keep it stabilized, and they pointed to reports that some Iraqi political groups have said they will not work with Mr. McGurk if he is confirmed as the next ambassador.

The Obama administration continued to defend Mr. McGurk’s nomination Wednesday.

“We believe that our nation will be greatly served from his experience in Iraq, which is substantial,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday. “Some of the points that you raise go to differing views about Iraq that have little to do with the proposed nominee — just a different opinion. There are some who believe we should still be at war with Iraq … the president simply disagrees.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, has criticized Mr. McGurk for failing to negotiate the maintenance of a small U.S. force inside Iraq after combat troops left in December 2011. Mr. McCain so far has not raised the issue of the emails or the extramarital affair in opposing Mr. McGurk’s nomination.

Mr. McGurk worked as an attorney for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion before joining Mr. Bush’s National Security Council staff. During 2007 and 2008, when the emails were written, he was the lead U.S. negotiator on security agreements in Iraq.

He returned to Baghdad last year as a senior adviser to James Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

The others who signed the letter are Sens. James E. Risch of Idaho, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma.

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