President Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Friday discussed ways they can work together to roll back the threat of an increasingly active Al-Qaeda in Iraq, while Obama also urged his counterpart to help bring about a politically inclusive Iraq.
After their private talks at the White House, the president told reporters that the U.S. wants Iraq to approve election reform so Iraqis can discuss their differences politically instead of resorting to violence.
In response, Maliki said he wants elections scheduled for next year to be held on time. He also agrees with Obama on the need for a peaceful solution in Iraq, where an estimated 7,000 civilians have been killed this year.
Maliki came to the White House seeking more American aid, including weapons and intelligence assistance, to combat the violence ravaging his country. Bloodshed brought on by insurgents there has spiked since American troops left in 2011.
At the end of the two-hour meeting, Obama said that the best way to honor lives lost during the Iraq War would be to bring about a functioning democracy. Maliki's request for help was not discussed before reporters by either leader, although Obama indicated that the United States has a self-interest in helping Iraq fight terrorism.
"Unfortunately, Al-Qaeda has still been active and has grown more active recently," Obama said. "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 said the two leaders have "similar positions" on countering terrorism and want to work together. He described Iraq's democracy as fragile, but vowed to strengthen it. "It will only allow us to fight terrorists," Maliki said through an interpreter.
The United States already provides military aid to Iraq, the legacy of an unpopular war that cost Americans nearly 4,500 troops and more than $700 billion.
But Maliki said the main purpose of his visit was to enhance Iraq's relationship and postwar agreement with the United States.
The leaders said they also discussed more contentious regional issues, including Syria and Iran, where the U.S. and Iraq have generally divergent interests.
Maliki's Oval Office visit with Obama was their first meeting since December 2011, six days before the last American troops left Iraq. At the time, Obama pledged that the U.S. would remain committed to the government it left behind and helped create.
Al Jazeera and wire services