Several U.S. senators have accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of promoting “a sectarian and authoritarian agenda” just as the political leader pays a visit to Washington this week.
In a letter sent Tuesday to President Barack Obama, six senators expressed alarm at the “deteriorating situation in Iraq” and urged Obama to expand counterterrorism assistance while pressing the Shiite prime minister to reconcile with Sunni and Kurdish leaders.
“Unfortunately, Prime Minister Maliki’s mismanagement of Iraqi politics is contributing to the recent surge of violence” in Iraq, where 7,000 civilians have been killed this year, wrote the four Republican and two Democratic lawmakers.
“By too often pursuing a sectarian and authoritarian agenda, Prime Minister Maliki and his allies are disenfranchising Sunni Iraqis, marginalizing Kurdish Iraqis, and alienating the many Shia Iraqis who have a democratic, inclusive and pluralistic vision for their country.”
The letter was signed by Republican Senators John McCain, James Inhofe, Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham, along with Democrats Carl Levin and Robert Menendez.
Maliki’s failures were pushing many Sunnis “into the arms of al-Qaeda in Iraq and fueling the rise of violence, which in turn is radicalizing Shia Iraqi communities and leading many Shia militant groups to remobilize,” the senators said.
They warned the situation threatened to pitch Iraq into an all-out civil war.
Maliki is currently visiting the United States, seeking the Obama administration’s help in fighting what he calls terrorists exploiting sectarian tensions.
“When I meet with President Obama on Friday, I plan to propose a deeper security relationship between the United States and Iraq to combat terrorism and address broader regional security concerns,” Maliki wrote in an article on the New York Times.
“The United States is our security partner of choice, so we have been working with the U.S. government and American defense firms to procure the equipment we need,” Maliki added.
The Americans pulled out from Iraq after talks on a long-term military presence collapsed over the issue of legal immunity for U.S. forces, which Iraq opposed.
Despite the sharp criticism of Maliki, the U.S. senators urged the Obama administration to “step up our counterterrorism support for Iraq,” including through more intelligence sharing.
But they said that Maliki needed to show that any U.S. security assistance was part of a broader strategy to address the political grievances feeding the current violence.
Obama should convey to Maliki that if he devises a “real governance strategy” in Iraq, the United States would be prepared to provide “appropriate support,” the senators said.
Iraq has ordered billions of dollars of U.S. military hardware and an order for dozens of F-16 fighter jets has been a source of dispute between the two countries, with Baghdad calling for faster delivery.