WASHINGTON: Terrorists “found a second chance” to thrive in Iraq, the nation’s prime minister said Thursday in asking for new U.S. aid to beat back a bloody insurgency that has been fueled by the neighboring Syrian civil war and the departure of American troops from Iraq two years ago.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told a packed auditorium at the U.S. Institute of Peace that he needs additional weapons, help with intelligence and other assistance, and claimed the world has a responsibility to help because terrorism is an international concern.
“If the situation in Iraq is not well treated, it will be disastrous for the whole world,” said al-Maliki, whose comments were translated from Arabic. “Terrorism does not know a single religion, or confession, or a single border. They carry their rotten ideas everywhere. They carry bad ideas instead of flowers. Al-Qaida is a dirty wind that wants to spread worldwide.”
The new request comes nearly two years after al-Maliki’s government refused to let U.S. forces remain in Iraq with legal immunity that the Obama administration insisted was necessary to protect troops. President Barack Obama had campaigned on ending the nearly nine-year war in Iraq and took the opportunity offered by the legal dispute to pull all troops out.
Nearly 4,500 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq between the 2003 invasion and the 2011 withdrawal. More than 100,000 Iraqis were killed during that time.
Al-Maliki will meet today with Obama in what Baghdad hopes will be a fresh start in a complicated relationship that has been marked both by victories and frustrations for each side.
Within months of the U.S. troops’ departure, violence began creeping up in the capital and across the country as Sunni Muslim insurgents lashed out, angered by a widespread belief that Sunnis have been sidelined by the Shiite-led government. The State Department says at least 6,000 Iraqis have been killed in attacks so far this year, and suicide bombers launched 38 strikes in the last month alone.
“So the terrorists found a second chance,” al-Maliki said — a turnabout from an insurgency that was mostly silenced by the time the U.S. troops left.
Al-Maliki largely blamed the Syrian civil war for the rise in Iraq’s violence, although he acknowledged that homegrown insurgents are to blame for the vast number of car bombs, suicide bombings and drive-by shootings that have roiled Baghdad and the rest of the nation.
He warned about the consequences of a political power grab by al-Qaida fighters who are aligned with the Sunni rebellion that is seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. But al-Maliki insisted Iraq is remaining neutral in the Syrian unrest.