Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is asking the United States for help in fighting what he says are terrorists exploiting sectarian tensions. Meanwhile, a group of influential U.S. senators say his leadership is driving a wedge between segments of the Iraqi people.
Iraq terror deaths reach 1,000 in September 2013 - USA Today
Maliki will begin a visit to the U.S. with meetings on Wednesday with Vice President Joe Biden and members of the congressional foreign relations committees. On Friday, President Barack Obama hosts Maliki for talks at the White House.
The Iraqi prime minister said in a New York Timesopinion piece that al-Qaida is carrying out a "terrorist campaign" against the Iraqi people, and that he does not want his country or neighboring Syria to become bases for the group. He said Iraq needs equipment for its armed forces, especially air defenses, and plans to ask Obama for aid to improve Iraq's military capabilities.
However, the group of senators, which includes John McCain, Carl Levin, Robert Menendez and Lindsey Graham, wrote a letter to Obama on Tuesday saying they are "deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Iraq." They blamed Maliki's governing style for contributing to the rise in violence, saying he has too often pursued "a sectarian and authoritarian agenda" that disenfranchises Sunnis, marginalizes Kurds and alienates Shi'ites who want a democratic, inclusive Iraq.
The United Nations estimates more than 7,500 people have been killed in a surge of violence in the country this year.
The senators want the president to pressure Maliki to come up with a political and security strategy to stabilize the country. They are calling for increased counterterrorism support for Iraq, but only as part of a comprehensive plan that unites Iraqis of every sect.
Iraq's ethnic Kurds, minority Sunnis and the ruling, majority Shi'ites have struggled to find a stable way of sharing power following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled former president Saddam Hussein. Many Sunnis have protested against the government, accusing it of marginalizing them politically and ignoring their demands.
Maliki closed his article by appealing for patience, saying Iraq "has matured into a country with democratic institutions," but needs more training, education and practice.
In their letter, the U.S. senators also expressed concerns about reports that Iran is using Iraqi airspace to fly military aid to Syria. Those concerns were shared by members of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who called in a letter addressed to the prime minister for Iraq to ground and inspect every Iranian flight over the country.
Maliki is scheduled to give an address Thursday in Washington as part of a discussion of U.S.-Iraq relations and the challenges facing Iraq and the surrounding region.
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