- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2013

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged the U.S. Thursday to provide his government with counterterrorism aid, including intelligence sharing, to help it tackle a rising tide of al Qaeda-inspired violence.

“The Iraqi people are ready to give blood in following the terrorists, but Iraq needs its friends to benefit from experience and training and also weapons that are necessary specifically for counterterrorism,” Mr. al-Maliki said at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington.

“Counterterrorism has specific needs, weapons-wise,” he said. “It is not about Abrams tanks or long-range missiles or artillery or F16s. It has its specific weaponry.”

A senior U.S. official who briefed reporters Wednesday on the condition of anonymity said Iraq’s government has requested weapons from the U.S., but he declined to discuss the specifics of the request.

Mr. al-Maliki will meet President Obama at the White House on Friday.

“We are talking with the Americans, and we are telling them that 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,” the Iraqi leader said. “Aside from mobilizing the people and the political forces enhancing national union, we need intelligence information that will help us target the strongholds and the cells and the groups of terrorists.”

In a letter this week, Democratic Sens. Carl M. Levin of Michigan and Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma and Bob Corker of Tennessee urged Mr. Obama to step up counterterrorism support for Baghdad.

“However … we must see more evidence from Prime Minister Maliki that U.S. security assistance and arms sales are part of a comprehensive Iraqi strategy that addresses the political sources of the current violence and seeks to bring lasting peace to the country,” the senators said.

Mr. al-Maliki said his government has “a new strategy based on mobilizing security forces and the people,” citing support from the various clans that mobilized against al Qaeda before U.S. troops left the country at the end of 2011. He said the terrorist group’s attacks had galvanized his countrymen.

This year, Iraq has witnessed a surge in acts of terrorism in which death tolls have rivaled those when the sectarian conflict was at its peak between 2006 and 2008. The United Nations estimates more than 7,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq this year.

Al Qaeda in Iraq re-branded itself as the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, and is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who U.S. officials say is based in Syria.

The threat posed by al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely contained when U.S. troops left in December 2011.

Mr. al-Maliki said al Qaeda’s resurgence has been helped by the power vacuums created in the region by pro-democracy Arab Spring protests that toppled long-entrenched dictators.

Iraq’s government is particularly concerned about the war in neighboring Syria.

Mr. al-Maliki said his government is not supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad or the rebels aligned against him, and believes a political solution is the only way out of the crisis.

The prime minister defended his government’s ties with another neighbor, Iran.

Mr. al-Maliki has served two terms as prime minister. In response to a question on whether he would seek a third term, he laughed, saying that is for the Iraqi people to decide.

Responding to critics who say he is consolidating power at the cost of Iraq’s democratic process, Mr. al-Maliki said the constitution is ruling Iraq.

“If I act in an unconstitutional way, please let me know when and how and tell me to go back to the constitution,” he said.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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