- Nuri al-Maliki expected to ask for assistance like weapons, intelligence-sharing
- More than 6,000 civilians have been killed in attacks there this year
- U.S. senators blame Iraq's prime minister for security problems
Iraq's prime minister, facing an insurgent al Qaeda affiliate and sectarian strife, will appeal to President Barack Obama on Friday for new assistance from the United States, even as some lawmakers question Nuri al-Maliki's ability to lead his nation.
A fresh rise in suicide bombers affiliated with al Qaeda has left more than 6,000 people dead this year alone, according to United Nations estimates. Violence has been on the upswing: On Wednesday, a suicide bomber killed at least nine people and wounded 25 others at a police checkpoint west of Mosul.
Al-Maliki is expected to ask for assistance in the form of weapons, equipment and intelligence-sharing in a bid to quell the bloodshed, two years after the United States withdrew almost all its troops from Iraq after Baghdad refused to renew a security agreement to extend legal immunity for American forces.
A bipartisan group of senators harshly criticized al-Maliki in a letter to Obama on Tuesday. They wrote that the recent security deterioration in Iraq was partially the Prime Minister's fault, citing what they cast as an exclusionary government.
"Unfortunately, Prime Minister Maliki's mismanagement of Iraqi politics is contributing to the recent surge of violence," the senators wrote. Signatories included Republicans John McCain, James Inhofe and Bob Corker and Democrats Carl Levin and Robert Menendez.
"By too often pursuing a sectarian and authoritarian agenda, Prime Minister Maliki and his allies are disenfranchising Sunni Iraqis, marginalizing Kurdish Iraqis, and alienating the many Shia Iraqis who have a democratic, inclusive, and pluralistic vision for their country," the lawmakers continued.
Al-Maliki and Iraqi officials met with Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, where they discussed the current threats. On Thursday, the Iraqi prime minister said in a speech that he was looking for greater support from the United States in ending the violence in his nation.
"We are talking with the Americans. We are telling them we need to benefit from their experience, from the intelligence information, from training for those who are targeting al Qaeda in a developed, technical, scientific way," he said at the United States Institute of Peace.
On Friday, Obama and al-Maliki will continue to hash out ways for Iraq to better counter fighters associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al Qaeda-affiliated group whose leader is thought to be based in war-torn Syria.
That effort could include some equipment and weapons sales, and the sharing of intelligence, according to a senior U.S. administration official, who said Iraq's current resources don't allow the nation to effectively target al Qaeda insurgents in the western part of the country.
"What we don't want the Iraqis to do is just take a security-centric approach to this," the official said.
"What that means is making sure they have information in terms of where people are located, where it's coming from, where the funding is coming from, and that's something we can do pretty effectively," the official continued. "So we're trying to help them now as best we can, and that's going to be a key topic of discussion over the course of the visit."
The U.S. supports separate weapons and air defense systems in Iraq, and a delivery of U.S. F-16 fighter jets is still planned for next fall, the official said, noting that Iraq had just submitted a deposit of more than $600 million after signing a contract last year for them.
U.S. officials are also asking Iraq to do more to end Iranian shipments to Syria's regime that utilize Iraqi airspace, a request originally made by Secretary of State John Kerry seven months ago during a surprise visit to Baghdad.
"We'd like them to do more," the official said of Iraq's progress on ending the over-flights from Iran.