The U.S. is preparing to send small arms and ammunition to the Iraqi government to help combat resurgent al-Qaeda-linked forces in western Anbar province, the Pentagon said.
The aid will be delivered “as rapidly as possible” to meet a request made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday.
More than two years after the last U.S. combat forces left Iraq, Maliki is struggling to combat al-Qaeda and allied forces that have seized control of Fallujah and other areas of Anbar province in recent weeks, even as he seeks to extend his tenure in contested elections scheduled for April.
Maliki told the Washington Post in an interview that he would support a new U.S. military training mission in Jordan for Iraqi counterterrorism troops, a move that would allow for a greater U.S. role in shoring up Iraq’s government.
State Department spokeswomen Jennifer Psaki told reporters yesterday in Washington that “there have been reports of that, which are, I believe, referring to Jordan, which are inaccurate.”
Earlier yesterday, Pentagon spokesman Warren declined to say whether U.S. talks with Iraq include any discussion of a new training mission and he wouldn’t speculate on whether any such training would occur in Iraq or in a third country.
“The department is in discussions,” Warren said of the Pentagon. “The department recognizes that it’s important for the Iraqis to have a capable force.”
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and some current U.S. officials, though, say they worry that Maliki’s Shiite-led government might use additional American arms to continue its campaign against the country’s Sunnis, which they say has helped fuel the resurgence of Islamic extremism in Anbar.
Maliki’s “search for power has steadily repressed and alienated Iraq’s Sunnis on a national level,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy institute, wrote in a Jan. 13 report. The Iraqi leader, Cordesman said, “has shifted the promotion structure in the Iraqi Security Forces to both give the prime minister personal control and has turned them into an instrument he can use against Sunnis.”
The Iraqi Embassy in Washington yesterday posted that Maliki has ordered the reinstatement of 350 former army officers who had been dismissed in 2003, when the U.S. oversaw the purge of members of Saddam Hussein’s largely Sunni Baath Party from the military. The Embassy posting said 1,350 retired officers would be granted state pensions, addressing another Sunni complaint.
Warren said the small arms being prepared for delivery don’t require additional notification to Congress.
While Maliki’s request also includes some additional Hellfire air-to-surface missiles made by Lockheed Martin Corp., those require congressional notification, according to a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe proposed arms shipments.
Maliki earlier had asked for Boeing Co. Apache attack helicopters, and that request remains under congressional review.
The U.S. has provided about $14 billion in arms to Iraq since 2005, the official said.
There currently are fewer than 300 U.S. military personnel in Iraq, about half of whom are based at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the official said.