Two years after the last U.S. combat troops left Iraq, the country's prime minister is visiting Washington to ask for more weapons to fight an increasingly deadly insurgency.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is set to discuss the request with President Barack Obama Friday at the White House. He met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey Thursday at the Defense Department.
The rising level of violence in Iraq, fueled by a civil war in neighboring Syria, has led the former commander of American troops there, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, to compare the situation to a particularly lethal period in 2006 before the U.S. sent tens of thousands of additional forces to the country in what became known as “the surge.”
In a recent op-ed in Foreign Policy, the retired four-star general and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency seemed to suggest it may be time for another surge -- not only of manpower, but also ideas.
“The surge was not just more forces, though the additional forces were very important,” he wrote. “What mattered most was the surge of ideas -- concepts that embraced security of the people by ‘living with them,' initiatives to promote reconciliation with elements of the population that felt they had no incentive to support the new Iraq, ramping up of precise operations that targeted the key ‘irreconcilables,' the embrace of an enhanced comprehensive civil-military approach, increased attention to various aspects of the rule of law, improvements to infrastructure and basic services, and support for various political actions that helped bridge ethno-sectarian divides.”
Petraeus, who resigned from the CIA last year following revelations he had an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, is now a college professor and chairman of the private-equity firm KKR & Co.'s Global Institute.
The U.S. spent several hundred billion dollars on the war in Iraq. Almost 4,500 American troops were killed during the conflict from 2003 to 2011.
The U.S. withdrew the last of its combat forces from Iraq in December 2011, though a nominal security assistance force of a few hundred troops remains in the country. Since that time, Iraq has requested $8.2 billion worth of U.S. military weapons and equipment, from fighter jets to combat vehicles, according to congressional notifications from the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
Iraq wants to buy an integrated air defense system, including several hundred Stinger missiles made by Raytheon Co.; 18 F-16 fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp.; 50 Stryker combat vehicles made by General Dynamics Corp.; a dozen utility helicopters made by Textron Inc.'s Bell Helicopter unit; weapon-locating radars made by Raytheon and Thales SA; and other systems, according to the notifications.
It's not entirely clear how such armament, designed to combat external threats, would help thwart a political and religious insurgency that relies on terrorist attacks such as car bombs against civilian targets.
In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Maliki only said he plans to propose to Obama “a deeper security relationship between the United States and Iraq to combat terrorism and address broader regional security concerns, including the conflict in Syria and the threat that proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons could pose in the region.”
In a background briefing Wednesday, a senior State Department official said the arms package sought by Maliki would address the immediate problem posed by fighters linked with al-Qaeda, but suggested that the U.S. was seeking a more comprehensive arrangement.
"Weapons sales alone will not advance any of our interests," said the official, who spoke on grounds of anonymity.
The official said the U.S. was looking for Maliki to adopt broad political and economic reforms aimed at healing Iraq's sectarian divisions ahead of national elections scheduled for next April. Sunni Muslim-based fighters are leading the uprising against a predominantly Shiite-led government. The terror network calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
"Weapons sales are one piece of this but only a minor piece," the official said.
The official declined to give specifics on the weapons systems that will be included in the package or the costs, although the Iraqis have also stressed their need for armed drones and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. Maliki, who rejected the idea of keeping more U.S. troop in the country after 2011, will not request an additional American military presence.
Military.com staff writer Richard Sisk contributed to this report.