Iraq's Maliki appeals for weapons, Obama pushing for 'inclusive,' 'democratic' election


Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (L) smiles while shaking hands with US President Barack Obama during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on November 1, 2013 in Washington. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)



Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Barack Obama discussed a common approach to worsening sectarian violence in the Middle Eastern nation during meetings on Friday afternoon in Washington.

In a joint statement, the leaders "pledged to advance common interests to support a stable, secure, and prosperous Iraq and Middle East."

Maliki, returning to Washington after two years, said Thursday that the United States and Iraq had "shed blood together fighting terrorism."

Iraq has experienced the bloodiest months since the heights of the insurgency in 2008, with Iraq ministries estimating that violence last month killed 964 people, including 855 civilians. The United Nations estimate put the toll even higher, at 979 people killed.

In meeting reporters after the nearly two-hour discussions, Obama said elections next year must include all segments of the Iraqi population.

"I emphasized...we are encouraged by support for all peoples in Iraq to have a voice in their government," Obama said, according to USA Today. "One of the most important expressions of that would be elections next year."

Al Qaeda, Syria, Iran and improved oil production from Iraq were also on the agenda.

Speaking at the US Institute of Peace on Thursday, Maliki blamed the violence on the resurgence of Al Qaeda.

"A vacuum was created [by the Arab Spring] and Al Qaeda and other groups were able to exploit it and to gain ground," he said.

While no specific mention of weapons was made, their joint statement issued Friday acknowledged Iraq needs more resources to "push back" against Al Qaeda.

"Both sides emphasized – on an urgent basis – the need for additional equipment for Iraqi forces to conduct ongoing operations in remote areas where terrorist camps are located," the White House statement said.

"The Iraqi delegation stressed its desire to purchase US equipment as a means of strengthening long-term institutional ties with the United States, and confirmed its commitment to ensure strict compliance with US laws and regulations on the use of such equipment."

American officials, however, blame the unrest on Maliki's refusing to include Sunni and Kurdish minorities in the Shia-led Iraqi government, and his administration moving closer to Iran.

"Prime Minister Maliki’s mismanagement of Iraqi politics is contributing to the recent surge of violence," said a letter drafted by a bipartisan group of US senators meant for Obama. Among those who wrote it were Sens. Carl Levin (D), John McCain (R), Robert Menendez (D) and Lindsey Graham (R).

The lawmakers also blamed a spillover of violence from the civil war in Syria, a point that Maliki addressed in his New York Times op-ed on Tuesday: "While the world sees Syria as a humanitarian tragedy, we also see an immediate threat to the security of our own country."

Maliki insisted on Thursday, "There is no problem between Sunnis and Shias. The Sunnis are killed today but also the Shias." He continued, “It is Al Qaeda who is killing all of the Iraqis."

Maliki hopes to secure weapons, military equipment and intelligence-sharing, as he wrote in his op-ed:

"...we urgently want to equip our own forces with the weapons they need to fight terrorism, including helicopters and other military aircraft so that we can secure our borders and protect our people. Hard as it is to believe, Iraq doesn’t have a single fighter jet to protect its airspace."

Maliki already met with Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on this trip to Washington.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday, "We believe that continued assistance (to Iraq) is necessary, and denying that assistance would be contrary to our interests."

A senior administration official was cited saying the US plans to deliver F-16 fighter jets to Iraq next fall, after receiving a $600 million deposit.