Obama, Iraqi speaker hold talks on tribal integration
WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama on Wednesday discussed the need to integrate Sunni tribal leaders and troops into the Iraqi army with the Sunni speaker of Iraq's parliament Osama al-Nujaifi.
Obama dropped by a scheduled meeting with the speaker, Iraqi parliamentarians and Vice President Joe Biden, as the White House seeks to help Iraq quell an Al-Qaeda upsurge in key western cities in Anbar province.
"The President encouraged Iraq's leaders to continue dialogue to address the legitimate grievances of all communities through the political process," the White House said in a statement.
"Both sides agreed on the need for both security and political measures to combat terrorism, and discussed efforts to formally integrate local and tribal forces into the state security structures consistent with the Government of Iraq's public commitments in recent days."
"President Obama and Vice President Biden also expressed the United States' strong support for continued cooperation between local and tribal leaders and the Iraqi Government against al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).'"
The Obama administration has been pushing Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to combat the Al-Qaeda comeback in western Iraq by doing more to integrate Sunni tribal leaders and forces into the armed forces and the Iraqi government.
Officials have said privately in recent days that they believe the threat from extremists in Iraqi cities like Fallujah has prompted Maliki to take fresh steps to engage Sunni tribes in the area.
Washington effectively wants Maliki to adopt a similar tactic of wooing Sunni tribes to fight extremists as was pursued in the successful US troop surge strategy against Al-Qaeda.
The meeting at the White House came hours after Maliki called for residents of Anbar province to "take a stand" against anti-government fighters, as air strikes were said to have killed 50 militants.
Parts of Ramadi and all of Fallujah, both west of Baghdad, have been in the hands of militants for weeks, the first time insurgents have exercised such open control in Iraqi cities since the peak of the violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion.
Air strikes launched across Anbar killed 50 militants, including foreign fighters of Arab nationality, the defense ministry said Wednesday.
Biden was later to honor the Iraqi speaker with a dinner at his official residence in Washington.