Maliki: Iraq seeks U.S. weapons, training

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BAGHDAD -- Iraq has asked the United States for new weapons to beat back the dramatic resurgence of al-Qaida-linked militants in a western province and would like U.S. troops to train its counterterrorism forces, its prime minister said in an interview Thursday.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he provided the wish list after a phone call Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden. Those weapons, which include assault rifles and artillery, might be easy to get to Baghdad soon, U.S. officials said. "Some is on hand, and we can supply it quickly," a senior U.S. diplomat said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The request for stepped-up U.S. assistance is adding urgency to a debate over the types of weapons Washington ought to provide to Mr. Maliki's government and the leverage that aid could give the United States.

Despite the stunning revival of the Sunni insurgency, which has carried out an intense wave of attacks over the past year and seized control of key Anbar province cities, Mr. Maliki said he did not regret that his administration failed to reach a deal with Washington that would have kept U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011.

"Since the American withdrawal, we've had a friendly relationship, but this strong bilateral relationship doesn't mean we need American forces here," a weary-looking Mr. Maliki said in the interview, conducted in his office in Baghdad's heavily barricaded Green Zone.

U.S. officials have watched Iraq's soaring violence with alarm over the past year, as an insurgency that the U.S. military took credit for decimating has re-emerged as a powerful regional force. But they also have come to see the crisis as an opportunity to retain influence in Iraq by keeping it as a staunch ally, and they worry that if they are unable to meet its urgent needs, Baghdad will increasingly turn to other nations for materiel.

"We're at a point where there is an opportunity to reinvigorate the partnership," said retired Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who led the command that trained and equipped Iraq's security forces in 2008. "We ought to take that opportunity."

The weapons Mr. Maliki has requested are a small piece of the massive list of defense items Iraq is trying to buy from the United States. Although Baghdad is also seeking Apache helicopters, the prospective sale has been snarled in Congress, where lawmakers have sought assurances that Iraqi security forces won't use the aircraft to crush political foes or crack down on Sunni communities' dissent.

Since 2005, the Pentagon has processed military orders for the Iraqi government worth nearly $10.5 billion. Iraq has initiated other orders that, if approved, could raise that to nearly $25 billion, a recent Congressional Research Service report said.

Because the U.S. defense export system is slow and sometimes stymied by politics, Iraq in recent years has begun to turn to Russia, South Korea and other nations that have more nimble military sales programs.

Mr. Maliki said in the interview that he would support a new U.S. military training mission for Iraqi counterterrorism troops in Jordan, marking the first time he has expressed support for a plan the Pentagon has been contemplating in recent months.


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