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US Reiterates Commitment to Iraq, Hints Help on the Way

Iraq's prime minister appears to be getting some assurances of U.S. help to counter a surge in violence as he begins a series of meetings with top officials in Washington.

Nouri al-Maliki met Wednesday with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who reiterated the U.S. commitment to Iraq.

"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.

Growing sectarian violence has led to more than 7,500 deaths just this year. In an opinion piece published in The New York Times prior to Wednesday's meeting, the Iraqi leader blamed al-Qaida, accusing the resurgent group of carrying out a "terrorist campaign" by exploiting sectarian rifts.

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.

Despite concerns about al-Qaida, a group of influential U.S. senators is urging President Obama to be cautious, arguing Mr. Maliki's leadership is a key factor in the "deteriorating situation in Iraq."

The senators, including John McCain, Carl Levin, Robert Menendez and Lindsey Graham, 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.

The U.S. senators also expressed concern about reports that Iran is using Iraqi airspace to fly military aid to Syria. Those concerns were shared by members of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who called in a letter addressed to the prime minister for Iraq to ground and inspect every Iranian flight over the country.

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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