Iraq seeks new U.S. ties over unrest

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WASHINGTON -- Nearly two years after pushing out the U.S. military, Iraq is asking for more U.S. weapons, training and manpower to help fight a bloody resurgence of al-Qaida that has unleashed a level of violence comparable to the darkest days of the nation's civil war.

The request will be discussed at a White House meeting Friday between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Barack Obama in what Baghdad hopes will be a fresh start in a complicated relationship that has been marked by victories and frustrations for each side.

"We know we have major challenges of our own capabilities being up to the standard. They currently are not," Lukman Faily, Iraq's U.S. ambassador, said in an interview. "We need to gear up, to deal with that threat more seriously. We need support and we need help. We have said to the Americans, we'd be more than happy to discuss all the options short of boots on the ground."

"Boots on the ground" means military forces. The United States withdrew all but a few hundred of its troops in December 2011 after Baghdad refused to renew a security agreement to extend legal immunity for U.S. forces that would have let more stay.

At the time, the withdrawal was hailed as a victory for the Obama administration, which campaigned on ending the Iraq war. But within months, violence began creeping up in the capital and across the nation, as Sunni Muslim insurgents lashed out at Shiites, angered by a widespread belief that Sunnis have been sidelined by the Shiite-led government, and with no U.S. troops to keep them in check.

More than 5,000 Iraqis have been killed in attacks since April, and suicide bombers launched 38 strikes in the last month alone.

Mr. Maliki is expected to ask Mr. Obama for new aid to bolster its military and fight al-Qaida. Mr. Faily said that could include a range of help from speeding up delivery of U.S. aircraft, missiles, interceptors and other arms to improving national intelligence systems. He did not rule out the prospect of asking for military special forces or more CIA advisers to help train and assist Iraqi counterterror troops.

If the United States does not commit to providing the weapons or other aid quickly, "we will go elsewhere," Mr. Faily said, meaning Iraq would step up diplomacy with nations such as China or Russia that would be happy to increase their influence in Baghdad at U.S. expense.

The two leaders also will discuss how Iraq can improve its fractious government, so often divided along sectarian or ethnic lines, to give a bitter, traumatized public more confidence in it.

The ambassador said no new security pact would be needed to give immunity to more U.S. advisers or trainers in Iraq, the main sticking point that led to U.S. withdrawal. And he said Iraq would pay for the additional weapons or other assistance.

A senior Obama administration official said Wednesday that U.S. officials were not planning to send U.S. trainers to Iraq, and that Baghdad had not asked for them. The administration official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters by name.

U.S. officials were prepared to help Iraq with an across-the-board approach focused not just on military or security gaps, the administration official said. The aid under consideration might include more arms for Iraqi troops who do not have necessary gear to battle al-Qaida insurgents, he said. Administration officials consider the insurgency, rebranded as the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, a major and rising threat both to Iraq and the United States, the official said.


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