Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a White House meeting with President Obama on Friday pressed the United States for a major weapons deal to help Baghdad defeat a resurgent al Qaeda -- but Obama made no concrete commitments to meet the request.
“The Iraqi delegation stressed its desire to purchase U.S. equipment as a means of strengthening long-term institutional ties with the United States, and confirmed its commitment to ensure strict compliance with U.S. laws and regulations on the use of such equipment,” the White House said in a readout of the meeting between the two leaders.
The White House said only that “both sides emphasized — on an urgent basis — the need for additional equipment for Iraqi forces to conduct ongoing operations in remote areas where terrorist camps are located.”
A growing chorus of lawmakers has urged Obama to condition any sale of weapons to the Maliki government taking steps to reduce sectarian tensions in Iraq. The Iraqi leader has faced criticism for not doing enough to avoid halt increasing violence in his country. A group of bipartisan senators wrote to Obama earlier this week and said Maliki must do more to to calm Sunni-Shiite animosity.
That increase in sectarian violence comes as administration officials warn that al Qaeda in Iraq has regained its foothold in the west of the country, and now has the strength to launch cross-border attacks.
For his part, Obama acknowledged that terrorist cells are growing more powerful in a country where the last American troops left two years ago. After the meeting, Obama conceded that al Qaeda had “grown more active” in Iraq.
The White House on Friday though again ruled out the prospect of “boots on the ground” in Iraq.
The two leaders focused on the civil war in Syria, which has carried over into neighboring Iraq, much to the chagrin of Maliki.
“We want the Syrian people to have the right to self-determination and to choose its leader,” Maliki said through a translator. “We do hope to avert nuclear wars in the region, and we also want to avoid the use of chemical weapons because we and the Syrians suffered a lot from these weapons."