Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for an international conference on terrorism and said his country needs U.S. expertise and support to defeat al-Qaeda attacks that are hampering economic development.
During a visit to Washington that includes a meeting tomorrow with President Barack Obama, Maliki used a speech today to press for greater U.S. assistance and urge patience as Iraq faces surging violence.
“We could have defeated al-Qaeda completely had the situation not deteriorated in Syria and Libya,” Maliki said at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a federally funded organization created by Congress in 1984 to promote peaceful resolutions of conflicts. “Extremism developed. Sectarianism developed.”
Maliki was met in Washington by questions about whether his Shiite-dominated government is fueling unrest by suppressing Sunni and Kurdish minorities and provoking sectarian divisions.
Six U.S. senators wrote Obama this week saying Maliki is “pursuing a sectarian and authoritarian agenda” that is “disenfranchising Sunni Iraqis, marginalizing Kurdish Iraqis, and alienating the many Shia Iraqis who have a democratic, inclusive and pluralistic vision for their country.”
Maliki’s “mismanagement of Iraqi politics” is helping create “the same conditions that drove Iraq toward civil war during the last decade,” according to the senators, Republicans John McCain of Arizona, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, along with Democrats Carl Levin of Michigan and Robert Menendez of New Jersey. “We fear that fate could befall Iraq once again.”
Bombings and suicide attacks in Iraq have killed more than 5,000 people this year -- a death toll unrivaled since 2009 and almost double the casualty rate in 2010, according to the United Nations. Barclays Plc (BARC)’s investment-banking unit cited the violence this month when it cut forecasts for Iraq’s gross domestic product, oil output and exports. Barclays reduced its 2013 GDP projection to 9.1 percent from 10.1 percent.
Maliki today rejected the assertions that his government’s attempts at consolidating power are stoking strife, saying he “never, ever, stepped on the constitution.”
Iraq’s unrest stems from terrorism, not sectarian divisions, he said.
“There is no problem between Sunnis and Shiites,” he said. “It is al-Qaeda who is killing all the Iraqis.”
Maliki is using his Washington visit partly to seek U.S. arms for a country that lacks an air force.
“We want an international war, a global war against terror,” Maliki said. “We are calling on all countries to hold an international conference on counterterrorism in Iraq.”
Almost two years after U.S. troops pulled out of a war that cost more than 4,400 American lives, the senators, in their letter, suggested they would support “appropriate security assistance” only if Maliki took steps to share more political power with Sunni Iraqis and resolve territorial disputes with Kurdish leaders, while ensuring free and fair elections next year.
If he fails to take those steps, “no amount of security assistance will be able to bring stability and security to Iraq,” the senators wrote.
Maliki, who had breakfast yesterday with Vice President Joe Biden, was pressed by U.S. officials to crack down on Iranian flights using Iraqi airspace to deliver weapons and support to the Syrian regime, according to an administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
While Maliki said Iraq lacks fighter planes to shoot down Iranian flights, the U.S. called on him to toughen inspections of cargo to stop more shipments, the official said.
Maliki, who became prime minister in 2006, declined to say whether he intends to seek another term in elections next year.
“This is something that is up to the Iraqi people,” he said.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at firstname.lastname@example.org