Ammar Karim, AFP
Last updated: 29 October, 2013

Iraq PM heads to US to seek security support

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki left for Washington on Tuesday, where he will push for increased US support for Baghdad’s efforts to curb a months-long surge in violence.

The unrest in Iraq has reached a level unseen since 2008 and killed more than 5,350 people this year, as authorities have so far failed to curb daily attacks despite carrying out a swathe of operations and implementing several tightened security measures.

“We will discuss … security and intelligence cooperation in addition to the file of arming (Iraq),” Maliki said in a televised news conference, adding that economic, energy and other issues would also be on the agenda.

His spokesman Ali Mussawi told AFP that during the trip, Maliki will seek to “intensify efforts to gain American support for fighting terrorism.”

The Iraqi premier is to meet President Barack Obama on November 1 for talks about bilateral relations and “regional issues,” the White House said.

Maliki heads to Washington weeks ahead of the two-year anniversary of the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, which came after talks on a continued military presence broke down over the issue of legal immunity for the US forces, which Iraq opposed.

US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003, toppling dictator Saddam Hussein and setting the stage for a wave of sectarian violence that killed tens of thousands of Iraqis, as well as nearly 4,500 American soldiers.

Iraq has ordered billions of dollars of military equipment from the United States, with a small number of US military personnel under embassy authority assisting with fielding the gear and training.

Iraq’s order of dozens of F-16 warplanes has sometimes been a point of contention between the two countries, with Baghdad calling for faster delivery and Washington saying that is not possible.

Another recurring issue is Iranian flights to Syria via Iraqi airspace that Washington says are carrying weapons to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which is locked in a bloody civil war with rebels.

The United States has repeatedly called on Iraq to stop the flights, with Baghdad responding that it is unable to do so.

At the time of the US military withdrawal, Iraqi forces were repeatedly touted as being capable of maintaining internal security, but the surge in violence this year has raised questions about their effectiveness.

Iraqi efforts to combat the heightened unrest have yet to be successful, and experts say Baghdad should turn to longer-term efforts that build trust among citizens, especially members of the country’s Sunni minority.

Widespread discontent among Iraq’s Sunnis, who complain of being politically isolated and unfairly targeted by security forces, has been a major factor in the unrest, along with the civil war in neighbouring Syria, which has bolstered militants.

More than 670 people have been killed in violence so far this month, and over 5,350 since the beginning of the year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.