Iraq Needs U.S. Support to Defeat al-Qaeda, Maliki Says

President Barack Obama is meeting today with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as the Iraqi leader seeks more U.S. support to fight al-Qaeda attacks while facing of criticism from U.S. lawmakers that his government is too sectarian and authoritarian.

Maliki, 63, prime minister since 2006, is asking for arms for a country without an air force, 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.

Barclays Plc’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.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said targeted foreign assistance to Iraq by the U.S. “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.

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 are suggesting withholding security assistance if he doesn’t make changes.

Lawmakers’ Concerns

Six U.S. senators wrote Obama this week saying Maliki has mismanaged Iraq politics, almost two years after U.S. troops pulled out of a war that cost more than 4,400 American lives.

He 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.

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.

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