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    Iraqi PM Presses Pitch for US Military Aid

    Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continues his appeal for more U.S. help to fight a surge of violence in his country as he meets Thursday with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

    Mr. Maliki is following the talks in Washington by giving an address at an event focusing on U.S.-Iraq relations and the challenges facing post-war Iraq, where growing sectarian fighting has led to more than 7,500 deaths this year.

    He stressed the need for upgrades to Iraq's air defenses and other military aid ahead of his visit to the U.S. this week, warning that al-Qaida is exploiting sectarian rifts to carry out a "terrorist campaign."

    He began meeting with top U.S. officials Wednesday, including Vice President Joe Biden, who reiterated that the U.S. is determined to help Iraqis fight al-Qaida.



    "We're committed to strengthening the security in Iraq as well as an enduring partnership.''



    Following the meeting, a senior U.S. official said a delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Iraq is on track for late next year despite some earlier delays. Iraq recently made a $650 million down payment for the planes.



    On Friday, Mr. Maliki goes to the White House for talks with President Barack Obama, where he is expected to ask for more help in improving Iraq's military capabilities.

    But a group of influential U.S. senators is urging President Obama to be cautious, arguing that Mr. Maliki's leadership is a key factor in what they say is a deteriorating situation in Iraq.

    Senator John McCain said after meeting with the prime minister on Wednesday that Mr. Maliki's government must make changes if it expects to receive the aid it wants.

    McCain is one of six senators, including Carl Levin, Robert Menendez and Lindsey Graham, who wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama that the Iraqi leader has too often pursued "a sectarian and authoritarian agenda" that disenfranchises Sunnis, marginalizes Kurds and alienates Shi'ites who want a democratic, inclusive Iraq.

    The senators want the president to pressure Mr. Maliki to come up with a political and security strategy to stabilize the country. They are calling for increased counterterrorism support for Iraq, but only as part of a comprehensive plan that unites Iraqis of every sect.

    Iraq's ethnic Kurds, minority Sunnis and the ruling, majority Shi'ites have struggled to find a stable way of sharing power following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled longtime Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Many Sunnis have protested against the government, accusing it of marginalizing them politically and ignoring their demands.

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