US President Barack Obama and Iraqi leader Nuri al-Maliki Friday discussed how to “push back” against al-Qaeda after the resurgent group whipped up the deadliest surge of violence in the country in five years.
Obama welcomed Maliki to the Oval Office nearly two years after the last soldier left Iraq, but as fears mount that al-Qaeda will send the country spiraling back into civil war.
“We had a lot of discussion about how we can work together to push back against that terrorist organization that operates not only in Iraq but also poses a threat to the entire region and to the United States,” Obama said.
But he did not offer specifics of US aid. Before the visit, US officials privately hinted that they were willing to offer increased intelligence help to Iraqi forces battling extremist fighters — many of whom have crossed into the country to flee violence that is rending neighboring Syria.
Amid some criticism that the United States left Iraq to fend for itself after an eight year occupation, Obama said that he appreciated Maliki’s work to honor the sacrifice of 4,500 US troops that were killed in the war by building a “prosperous, inclusive and democratic Iraq.”
Some Maliki critics in Washington feel the prime minister has not done enough to include all of Iraq’s minorities in the political system and has therefore fostered a well of sectarian resentment that has offered an opening for extremists.
October was Iraq’s deadliest month since April 2008, with 964 killed and another 1,600 wounded. The vast majority of those killed were civilians.
Maliki has a wish list of US military hardware, including attack helicopters to go with already ordered fighter jets to help his ill-equipped military battle insurgents. But he 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.”