President Barack Obama promised Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki U.S. support in fighting al-Qaeda elements in the country without saying whether he’ll deliver on any new commitment for more military aid.
Maliki, 63, prime minister since 2006, is in Washington seeking more weapons as bombings and suicide attacks in Iraq have killed more than 5,000 people this year, the most since 2009, according to the United Nations. He’s asking for additional assistance amid criticism from some U.S. lawmakers that Iraq’s government is fueling violence by failing to bridge differences among sectarian groups.
“The United States wants to be a strong and effective partner with Iraq,” Obama told reporters today after meeting with Maliki for about two hours at the White House. Helping Iraq battle extremists and expand democratic practices “is something we want to work on.”
Barclays Plc (BARC)’s investment-banking unit cited the violence this month when it cut forecasts for Iraq’s gross domestic product growth, oil output and exports. Barclays reduced its 2013 GDP projection to 9.1 percent from 10.1 percent for the country, which is the second-largest oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said targeted assistance to Iraq “remains an essential piece of our engagement” and that the chief source of the violence is al-Qaeda and affiliates “trying to provoke cycles of sectarian reprisals.”
“Suggestions that we deny security assistance would only serve to undermine our relations with Iraq, decrease our influence and impede progress toward our long-term efforts in the region,” Carney said.
The U.S. has delivered more than $14 billion in military equipment and other support to Iraq since 2005, including aircraft and patrol boats, according to the White House.
Maliki is facing questions in Washington about whether his Shiite-dominated government is fueling unrest by suppressing Sunni and Kurdish minorities and provoking sectarian divisions. Some U.S. lawmakers have suggested withholding military aid if he doesn’t make changes.
Six U.S. senators wrote Obama this week saying Maliki has mismanaged Iraqi politics, almost two years after U.S. troops pulled out of a war that cost more than 4,400 American lives.
Maliki is “pursuing a sectarian and authoritarian agenda” said the letter signed by Republicans John McCain of Arizona, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Democrats Carl Levin of Michigan and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
If Maliki fails to share more political power with Sunni Iraqis, resolve territorial disputes with Kurdish leaders and ensure free and fair elections next year, “no amount of security assistance will be able to bring stability and security to Iraq,” the senators wrote.
Maliki said the U.S. and Iraq need to “enhance” their relationship. Iraq’s democracy is “fragile,” he said, and his government is committed to holding elections on time.
U.S. officials are also pressing Maliki to toughen inspection of cargo and crack down on Iranian flights that use Iraqi airspace to deliver weapons and support to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, according to an administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
The Iraqi leader met one-on-one for two hours yesterday with Vice President Joe Biden. Their talk included a discussion about how the U.S. can help Iraq isolate terrorist networks and making sure parliamentary elections are held on schedule, according to a statement from Biden’s office.