Baghdad/Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat— Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki began a state visit to the United States on Tuesday following an invitation from US Vice President Joe Biden, at a time of increased violence in Iraq and fresh tensions between Baghdad and the Kurdish provinces.
The visit will be followed by an additional visit next month by Speaker for the Iraqi Parliament Osama Al-Nujaifi.
Al-Maliki’s last visit to the United States was two years ago, when the domestic security and political situation in Iraq was more stable. Moreover the regional landscape, particularly the Syrian issue or the impasse in US-Iran relations, was not of critical concern to Al-Maliki at the time.
Prior to his departure from Baghdad airport, Maliki announced that he will “discuss, with American officials, a number of issues including implementing an agreement for a strategic framework, combating terrorism and the Syrian crisis.”
Al-Maliki marked his visit to Washington by writing an op-ed for the New York Times, entitled ‘Have Patience With Us.’ In the article, he said that Iraq needs American patience and support to “combat terrorism.” He added that Iraq needs American assistance to urgently “equip our own forces with the weapons they need to fight terrorism,” reiterating that the Iraqi government intends to procure the necessary American weapons and aircraft for its military.
“Iraq has matured into a country with democratic institutions. But we are in need of more training, education, practice—and patience,” Maliki wrote.
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Iraqi Member of Parliament Sami Al-Askari said that “the atmosphere of Maliki’s visit to Washington today is completely different to the atmosphere of his visit in 2011, as the security and political situation in Iraq back then was not in the disarray it is in today. This is in addition to the very diverging positions between Baghdad and Washington with regards to Syria, as Iraq was considered to be a passageway for Iranian weapons into Syria.”
“If this visit was taking place during the preparations for an American strike against Syria then it would not be able to achieve what it can today in terms of results. This represents the increasing convergence between the Iraqi and American points of view regarding the issue of Syria, as well as the US-Iran rapprochement,” added Askari.
Asakri said “the priority now, with respect to Iraq is the question of combating terrorism. Since Iraq needs, in this regard, to implement an agreement for a strategic framework between both sides, especially contracts for arms. There is a gap in this field, both in terms of helicopters or aircraft, and these are matters of extreme importance to Iraq.”
Askari said he expected that “there will be progress on this issue,” although he cautioned that “there are hostile voices towards Iraq within the American Congress.”
With regards to the Syrian crisis, Askari asserted that “Iraq’s position is clear on this issue: [the situation] demands urgent discussions for a political solution. This is the viewpoint that Iraq has maintained from the beginning and has continued to maintain, even when the regional and global atmosphere differed.”
He mentioned that the head of the Iraqi parliament Osama Al-Nujaifi announced last week that he received an invite to Washington from the US vice president. He is expected to undertake the trip within the next month.
On Monday evening, Joe Biden telephoned Massoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region. According to a statement issued by the Office of the Vice President, Biden and Barzani “discussed the political and security challenges facing Iraq.” Biden stressed the “importance of holding 2014 parliamentary elections on time.”
On Monday, Barzani threatened to boycott parliamentary elections unless a new law on the organization is introduced.