Iraqi PM faces criticism over sectarian violence in Washington visit


By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nurial-Maliki was due to meet with members of Congress on Wednesdayas he seeks increased military aid to fight sectarian violenceamid criticism from U.S. lawmakers that his government hascontributed to the divisions.

As he traveled to Washington on Tuesday, six influentialU.S. senators took a hard line against Maliki in a letter toPresident Barack Obama.

"By nearly every indicator, security conditions in Iraqhave dramatically worsened over the past two years. Al Qaeda inIraq has returned with a vengeance," wrote Democrats Carl Levinand Robert Menendez and Republicans John McCain, James Inhofe,Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham.

The letter urged Obama to press Maliki to formulate astrategy to stabilize the country, citing U.N. estimates thatmore than 7,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq this year.

"Unfortunately, Prime Minister Maliki's mismanagement ofIraqi politics is contributing to the recent surge of violence,"the letter said.

Maliki is urgently seeking military supplies to fight anupsurge in sectarian violence spilling over the Syrian border.He also was expected to present himself to Obama as a potentialmediator with Iran and its ally, Syrian President Basharal-Assad.

During his first visit in two years, Maliki was due to meetwith members of Congress including Menendez and Corker, theleaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and theRepublican and Democratic leaders of the House Foreign AffairsCommittee. He was scheduled to meet with Obama on Friday.

U.S. officials, particularly in Congress, which takes aharder line on many foreign policy issues than the Obama administration, have watched in dismay as Maliki ignored itscalls to build consensus and moved closer to Iran.

Maliki "too often" pursues a sectarian and authoritarianagenda, the senators wrote, strengthening al Qaeda in Iraqi andfueling violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.

The letter noted reports that Tehran uses Iraqi airspace tosend military assistance to Assad in a civil war that has killedmore than 115,000 civilians.

"We urge you to make clear to Prime Minister Maliki that theextent of Iran's malign influence in the Iraqi government is aserious problem in our bilateral relationship, especially forthe Congress," the letter said.

If Maliki adopts a new strategy for Iraq to addressgovernance issues and unite Iraqis of all sects and ethnicities,the United States would be ready to provide support to help thatstrategy succeed, the senators wrote.

"(This) requires a clear commitment that the electionsscheduled for next year will happen freely, fairly, andinclusively in all parts of Iraq, and that the necessarypreparations will be taken," they said.

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