US President Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki discussed how to “push back” against al-Qaeda amid the deadliest surge of violence in Iraq in five years.
The two leaders met at the White House nearly two years after the last US troops left Iraq, but as fears mount that al-Qaeda will send the country spiralling back into civil war.
A statement issued by the two governments on Friday said both delegations agreed that Iraqi forces urgently needed additional equipment, including attack helicopters to go with already ordered fighter jets to help his ill-equipped military battle armed groups.
We had a lot of discussion about how we can work together to push back against that terrorist organisation that operates not only in Iraq but also poses a threat to the entire region and to the United States.
“We had a lot of discussion about how we can work together to push back against that terrorist organisation that operates not only in Iraq but also poses a threat to the entire region and to the United States,” Obama said.
Al-Maliki did not say whether Washington had agreed to his requests. In a joint statement issued after the talks, both sides agreed on the need “for additional equipment for Iraqi forces to conduct ongoing operations in remote areas where terrorist camps are located”.
The statement also noted that both delegations backed the need for “aggressive political outreach” to isolate and defeat The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda front group.
October was Iraq’s deadliest month since April 2008, where nearly 1,000 people were killed and another 1,600 wounded, according to data from the Iraqi ministries of health, interior and defence. The vast majority of those killed were civilians.
Al-Maliki is seeking increased military aid, such as the Apache helicopters, to help suppress sectarian violence, but faces opposition on that front from some US lawmakers.
Six influential senators on Thursday took a hard line against al-Maliki, saying his mismanagement of Iraqi politics was contributing to the surge of violence.
Before the visit, US officials privately hinted that they were willing to offer increased intelligence help to Iraqi forces battling fighters – many of whom have crossed into the country to flee violence that is rending neighbouring Syria.
After an hour and a half of talks, Obama also encouraged al-Maliki to pass an election law so national polls can take place on time early next year, and stressed the need for a peaceful solution to the Syria conflict and the nuclear showdown with Iran.
Al-Maliki said he hoped that the United States would help rebuild Iraq and stressed his government’s commitment to a strategic agreement governing their relations following the US withdrawal.
He admitted that democracy in Iraq was “fragile” but committed to hold elections on time next year.
“We also want to have the mechanism of democracy such as elections, and we want to hold the elections on time, and the government is committed to do so,” al-Maliki said. “Democracy needs to be strong, and we are going to strengthen it because it only will allow us to fight terrorism.”