Baghdad to come knocking for help
WASHINGTON — Nearly two years after pushing out the U.S. military, Iraq is asking for more American 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 during a White House meeting on Friday between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President 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,” said Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States. “We need to gear up, to deal with that threat more seriously. We need support, and we need help.”
He added: “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 from Iraq in December 2011 when Baghdad refused to renew a security agreement to extend legal immunity for Americans 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 and had little appetite for pushing Baghdad into a new security agreement. But within months, violence began creeping up in the capital and across the country 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 orchestrated 38 strikes in the last month.
Al-Maliki is expected to ask Obama for new assistance to bolster its military and fight al-Qaida. Faily said that could include everything from speeding up the delivery of U.S. aircraft, missiles, interceptors and other weapons to improving national intelligence systems. And when asked, he did not rule out the possibility of asking the United States to send military special forces or additional CIA advisers to Iraq to help train and assist counterterror troops.
If the United States does not commit to providing the weapons or other aid quickly, “we will go elsewhere,” Faily said. That means Iraq will step up diplomacy with nations such as China or Russia that would be more than happy to increase their influence in Baghdad at U.S. expense.
The leaders also will discuss how Iraq can improve its fractious government, which so often is divided among sectarian or ethnic lines, to give it more confidence with a bitter and traumatized public.
The ambassador said no new security agreement would be needed to give immunity to additional 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.