WASHINGTON — President Obama pledged Friday to help combat an increasingly active Al Qaeda in Iraq but stopped short of announcing new commitments of assistance sought by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq.
Maliki came to the Oval Office requesting more aid, including weapons and help with intelligence, to fight insurgent violence that has spiked in Iraq since US troops left in 2011.
‘‘Unfortunately Al Qaeda has still been active and has grown more active recently,’’ Obama said at the end of a nearly two-hour meeting. ‘‘So we had a lot of discussion about how we can work together to push back against that terrorist organization that operates not only in Iraq, but also poses a threat to the entire region and to the United States.’’
Maliki declined to discuss the details of his request for US assistance but said the meeting was very positive.
‘‘We talked about the way of countering terrorism, and we had a similar position and similar ideas,’’ he said.
Obama said the best way to honor those killed would be to bring about a functioning democracy. Maliki’s critics have accused him for years of a heavy-handed leadership that refuses to compromise and, to some, oversteps his authority against political enemies. But Obama praised the prime minister for working to include Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds.
‘‘The main theme was that the United States wants to be a strong and effective partner with Iraq, and we are deeply invested in seeing an Iraq that is inclusive, that is democratic, and that is prosperous,’’ Obama said. ‘‘And I communicated to the prime minister that anything that we can do to help bring about that more hopeful future for Iraq is something that we want to work on.’’
Maliki described Iraq’s democracy as fragile but vowed to strengthen it. ‘‘It only will allow us to fight terrorists,’’ Maliki said through an interpreter.
Obama said he was encouraged that Iraqi lawmakers set April 30 for national elections, the country’s first since March 2010. He said an election will show Iraqis ‘‘that when they have differences, they can express them politically, as opposed to through violence.’’
The United States already provides military aid to Iraq, the legacy of an unpopular war that cost nearly 4,500 US troops and more than $700 billion. The White House said among equipment the United States has sent since pulling troops out are military planes, helicopters, patrol boats, and a surface-to-air missile battery.
Maliki’s visit with Obama was their first meeting since December 2011, when the Iraqi leader came to Washington six days before the last US troops left Iraq. At the time, Obama pledged that the United States will remain committed to the government they left behind.
The troop withdrawal came after Maliki’s government refused to let US forces remain with the legal immunity that the Obama administration insisted was necessary to protect troops. Obama had campaigned for the presidency on ending the nearly nine-year war and took the opportunity offered by the legal dispute to pull all combat troops out.
Associated Press— ASSOCIATED PRESS
Patrick Kennedy protests Iraq’s request for more help
WASHINGTON — Former representative Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island stood Friday with a couple of hundred demonstrators in front of the White House, protesting Iraq’s request for military aid to quell growing violence.
Kennedy said he was showing his solidarity with Iraqi dissidents in a moment that he compared to his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, proclaiming his sympathy with the people of Berlin with the 1963 remark, “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
It is time for America to live up to its principles and deny US support and aid to a government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, that denies basic freedoms, Kennedy said.
“Are we on the people’s side who want freedom?,” Kennedy said in an interview with the Globe. “Or are we on the side of these repressive regimes like the mullahs in Tehran who are not only oppressing their own people, but are oppressing their neighbors in Iraq, through their puppet regime and Nouri al-Maliki?”
Other high-profile guests at the protest included former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former senator Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey, and former Homeland Security secretary and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.
The rally was held immediately before Maliki’s afternoon visit to the White House in which Maliki said he would ask President Obama for US aid.
“We are not asking for American boots on the ground,” Maliki wrote in a New York Times op-ed Tuesday. “Rather, we urgently want to equip our own forces with the weapons they need to fight terrorism, including helicopters and other military aircraft.”
Before Obama considers giving further assistance, Kennedy says there must be a way to ensure Iraq is held accountable to the terms of any agreement.
“That’s what our country is about, conditioning assistance based upon the adherence of certain principles and accountability measures,” Kennedy said. “We shouldn’t be giving him any more military aid if all he’s going to do is use that to oppress and add fuel to the fire of this sectarian war.”
Iranian-Americans and human rights advocates have protested outside of the White House for a few weeks preparing for the Iraqi prime minister’s visit. They have implored Obama to hold Maliki accountable for the Sept. 1 massacre of 52 Camp Ashraf residents.
Camp Ashraf has for over 25 years been a refuge for many members of Iran’s main opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq. The group believes that Maliki has close ties with Iran and that he ordered the assault.
— MATTIAS GUGEL