BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's prime minister pressed for faster deliveries of weapons to help arm his country's military during a Thursday meeting with a senior U.S. defense official.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made the request during talks with U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in Baghdad, according to a statement by the Iraqi leader's office.
Al-Maliki said Iraq needs to beef up its defenses to protect the country's security and national sovereignty, and to tackle terrorist groups that continue to threaten Iraq's stability more than nine years after the U.S.-led invasion.
Carter visited the Iraqi capital during a Mideast tour that included stops in U.S. allies Kuwait and Qatar. His visit to Iraq also included talks with Iraq's acting defense minister, Saadoun al-Dulaimi.
Iraq has agreed to buy a range of American-made weapons, including tanks and F-16 fighter jets, as it works to rebuild and modernize its military.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement that Carter used his first trip to Iraq as deputy secretary to emphasize Iraq's role in ensuring regional stability, and said the countries' "cooperation on matters of mutual strategic interest continue to be more vital than ever."
The last American troops left Iraq on Dec. 18, 2011, sticking to a year-end withdrawal deadline outlined in a 2008 security agreement. The U.S. had hoped to maintain a military presence in Iraq beyond that deadline, but Washington was unable to reach a deal with the Iraqis on legal issues and immunity for U.S. troops.
A small number of U.S. military personnel remain in Iraq as an arm of the American embassy, and are responsible for facilitating Iraqi arms purchases and training the Iraqis how to use and maintain the weapons.
Baghdad made its push just days after al-Maliki met with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and said Iraq is open to building military and security ties with Russia.
During his visit to the Russian capital, al-Maliki said Iraq is considering buying more than $4 billion of weapons from Russia, including helicopter gunships and air defense missiles. Russia was a key supplier of weapons to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator who was ousted during the 2003 invasion.
Iraq last week agreed to buy 28 Czech-made military planes in a deal valued at $1 billion.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed.