PENTAGON — The United States announced that it is committed to helping Iraq fight militants but will not, for now, transfer the bulk of military assistance that the government of Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki has requested.
The U.S. affirmed its commitment to the Iraqi government after militants linked to al-Qaida overran Fallujah and other areas of Iraq's Anbar province earlier this year.
Washington is accelerating delivery of about 100 "Hellfire" air-to-ground missiles, aerostat balloons and about 10 small unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.
Pentagon spokesman U.S. Navy Commander Bill Speaks said the U.S aims to build Iraqi capacity.
“All of this is intended to increase the Iraqi military's ability to have a robust surveillance and intelligence capability as they counter al-Qaida,” said Speaks.
However, the Hellfire missiles can be used only for precise, narrow targets, and the toy-sized unarmed drones are far less powerful than the tanks and Apache helicopters Iraq has been requesting from the U.S. for a long time.
The U.S. has complained about what it claims are Maliki’s heavy-handed tactics against his political opponents.
Analyst Tim Brown of globalsecurity.org said Washington does not trust the Maliki government with more powerful weapons.
“The United States is concerned that the Iraqi government, without the proper guidance and training, might misuse these weapons either accidentally or they might use them to target other ethnic groups and so the concern is that this the technology that the United States is going to be able to keep a close rein on,” said Brown.
Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Lukman al-Faily, said he is working to convince U.S. leaders to release more equipment.
“The key question I'll be raising now in Congress and others is, 'Is Iraq an ally of yours?' If it is, then we need to have that privilege of an ally. If we are not, then what do we need to do to become that ally?” said Faily.
What the U.S. seeks is a change in the Maliki government's behavior, according to analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“This is not a rise back of al-Qaida. This is a much broader reaction to what has been a steadily more repressive and authoritarian government to the chronic, increasing misuse of the security forces,” said Cordesman.
U.S. officials maintain that war materiel alone is not going to resolve Iraq's problems; they are adopting what they say is a holistic approach, combining military aid with advice and training for Iraqi officials at the ministerial level.
The U.S. has ruled out sending combat forces. Since the 2011 withdrawal, however, the number of U.S. military advisers in Iraq has steadily risen to as many as 200.