By Kevin Liptak
President Barack Obama's meeting Friday with Iraq's leader will include discussion of how to counter a fresh rise in suicide bombers affiliated with al Qaeda, a senior U.S. official says.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is slated to visit the White House at the end of the week for a meeting with the President as tensions rise between Iraq's Shiite majority and its Sunni minority. Violence has been on the upswing - on Wednesday, a suicide bomber killed at least nine people and wounded 25 others at a police checkpoint west of Mosul. In all, more than 6,000 people have been killed in attacks this year.
A bipartisan group of senators harshly criticized Maliki in a letter to Obama on Tuesday, writing that the recent security deterioration in Iraq was partially the Prime Minister's fault.
"Unfortunately, Prime Minister Maliki's mismanagement of Iraqi politics is contributing to the recent surge of violence," the senators wrote. Signatories included Republicans John McCain, James Inhofe and Bob Corker, and Democrats Carl Levin and Robert Menendez.
"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 lawmakers continued.
Maliki and Iraqi officials met with Vice President Joe Biden Wednesday at his home in Washington for an in-depth discussion of current threats, according to the official, who spoke to reporters on a conference call on the condition of anonymity.
On Friday, Obama and Maliki will continue to hash out ways for Iraq to better counter fighters associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al Qaeda-affiliated group whose leader is thought to be based in war-torn Syria.
That effort could include equipment and weapons sales, and the sharing of intelligence, according to the official, who said Iraq's current resources don't allow the nation to effectively target al Qaeda insurgents in the western part of the country.
"What we don't want the Iraqis to do is just take a security-centric approach to this," the official said.
"What that means is making sure they have information in terms of where people are located, where it's coming from, where the funding is coming from, and that's something we can do pretty effectively," the official continued. "So we're trying to help them now as best we can, and that's going to be a key topic of discussion over the course of the visit."
The U.S. supports separate weapons and air defense systems in Iraq, and a delivery of U.S. F-16 fighter jets is still planned for next fall, the official said, noting Iraq had just submitted a deposit of more than $600 million after signing a contract last year for them.
U.S. officials are also asking Iraq to do more to end Iranian shipments to Syria's regime that utilize Iraqi airspace, a request originally made by Secretary of State John Kerry seven months ago during a surprise visit to Baghdad.
"We'd like them to do more," the official said of Iraq's progress on ending the over-flights from Iran.