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Iraq's Maliki Presses for US Military Aid

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki meets Friday at the White House with President Barack Obama, on a mission to press for military equipment and greater cooperation in fighting a surge of terrorism in his homeland.

The visit and expected arms request comes nearly two years after Mr. Maliki's government refused to let U.S. forces remain in Iraq with the legal immunity that Washington insisted was needed to protect U.S. troops. At the height of the legal standoff, Mr. Obama ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of 2011.

The White House said Thursday continued assistance to Iraq is necessary, but did not respond to reporters' queries about whether the president can overcome growing congressional questions about such aid.

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.

In meetings Thursday with senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, Mr. Maliki largely blamed the resurgence of al-Qaida in Iraq on the civil war in neighboring Syria.

He said the Sunni militant group was able to exploit the unrest spawned in 2011 by the Arab Spring movement that toppled several Middle East dictatorships. He said the uprisings failed to provide immediate post-protest leadership, and said al-Qaida used that leadership vacuum to gain strength.

But some U.S. officials are linking Iraq's killing surge to the failure of Mr. Maliki's Shi'ite dominated government to share power with Sunni Muslims, and a group of influential U.S. senators is urging caution.

Led by Senator John McCain, a group of six senators want 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.

More than 7,500 people have been killed in sectarian violence in Iraq this year, most of them since April, when government forces stormed a Sunni protest encampment north of Baghdad.


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