- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A resurgent al Qaeda is trying to push Iraq toward a civil war, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States said on Wednesday.

“In recent months, levels of violence in Baghdad and elsewhere have spiked as al Qaeda and its affiliates are trying to push Iraq toward civil war,” Ambassador Lukman Faily said at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Six people were killed and dozens wounded in bombings in northern and central Iraq on Wednesday.

The United Nations estimates that more than 4,000 people have been killed in Iraq since April in a wave of Muslim violence between the rival Sunni and Shiite sects. Most of the attacks have taken place in the capital Baghdad.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, on Wednesday urged Iraqis to support his government’s counterterrorism campaign.

Mr. Faily blamed pro-democracy uprisings that have toppled long-entrenched regimes in the Arab world since 2010 for creating a power vacuum, which has led to the resurgence of extremism and sectarianism.

“What started off as a pro-democratic protest is sadly sliding toward polarization of communities along sectarian, regional and religious line,” he said.

Iraq’s security has been adversely affected by this development as well as by the ongoing civil war in neighboring Syria, he added.

Mr. Faily said Iraq and the United States share a common enemy in al Qaeda, which he blamed for trying to undermine progress in Iraq and hijacking the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has forged ties with Islamists fighting the Assad regime in Syria. In April, it merged with Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian group that the United States considers to be a terrorist organization.

Mr. Faily said Washington should look at its relationship with Baghdad as a partnership, instead of an “afterthought of events.”

U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq in December 2011. Joint security assistance programs later lapsed because the Maliki government was unwilling to meet U.S. conditions to maintain the programs.

Mr. Faily said the United States fails to understand the Iraqi sense of urgency about its security.

“Our fight against al Qaeda is not one of political discourse. It is of survival and existence, so I think it’s important people appreciate that as well,” he said.

The Maliki government says it has a neutral posture toward the Assad regime, but U.S. officials have accused Iraq of allowing Iranian military fights to ferry weapons to the Syrian government through Iraqi airspace.

Mr. Faily said his government categorically rejects military support for the Assad regime and called on the United States to help Iraq build an integrated air-defense system that could prevent Iraqi airspace from being used to funnel arms to Syria.

Mr. Faily said his government does not see a military solution as an option to end the 2½-year-old civil war in Syria, which the United Nations estimates has claimed more than 100,000 lives.

“Dialogue has to be the tool forward,” he said. “The current discourse of trying to have a quick military operation will not work. What is the day-after scenario? That is a question I have been asking here. I haven’t heard the right answer yet.”

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

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