By Anne Gearan, Tuesday, October 29, 7:09 PM
A bipartisan group of foreign policy leaders in the Senate warned in unusually blunt terms Tuesday that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be pulling his country back toward civil war.
In a letter to President Obama timed for Maliki’s visit to Washington, the leaders of the Senate defense and foreign affairs committees said Maliki is contributing to what the lawmakers called an alarming slide toward sectarian violence compounded by the Syrian civil war next door.
Obama will see Maliki at the White House on Friday.
“Prime Minister Maliki’s mismanagement of Iraqi politics is contributing to the recent surge of violence,” Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wrote.
Maliki’s Shiite-led government is too dominated by Iran’s “malign influence” and its mistreatment of the Sunnis is pushing that minority group toward extremism, the senators charged.
“These were the same conditions that drove Iraq toward civil war during the last decade and we fear that fate could befall Iraq once again,” the letter said.
The Obama administration has tried without much success to foster a more inclusive government in Baghdad. That impasse is expected to be one major topic for Maliki’s meeting with the president. His request for more U.S. counterterrorism aid is the other.
Iraq wants to buy U.S.-made Apache helicopters, among other equipment.
The request is now before Congress, and the bipartisan Senate group appeared to endorse it.
Among the senators’ recommendations for Obama is greater counterterrorism aid for Iraq, to deal with the resurgence and expansion of the al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq.
Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, said the security concerns would top Iraq’s agenda for meetings this week across the administration and in Congress.
He acknowledged U.S. concern about Iraq’s political balance, and the case Obama is likely to make to Maliki about the cost of excluding Sunnis.
“We have done our homework,” he said.