WASHINGTON - President Bush told a Shi'ite political leader on Monday the
United States is not happy with progress in Iraq and sought the cleric's help to
curb extremists and terrorists trying to undermine the struggling new democracy.
Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim said US troops
need to stay in Iraq to help deal with escalating violence. He also told Bush
that Iraq welcomes help from other nations, including those in the Middle East,
so long as they do not bypass Iraq's political process.
President Bush, right, talks to reporters during his meeting
with Sayyed Aziz Al-Hakim, an Iraqi Shiite leader, in the Oval Office of
the White House in Washington, Dec. 4, 2006. [AP]
"Iraq should be in a position to solve Iraqi problems," al-Hakim told Bush
after they met in the Oval Office for more than an hour.
Some consider al-Hakim, who lived in exile in Iran for years, a more powerful
political figure than Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Hakim leads the
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest Shi'ite bloc in
Iraq's parliament. His party also is backed by the Badr Brigade militia blamed
for sectarian killings.
The meeting was evidence that Bush, under pressure to find a new blueprint
for his war strategy, was getting more personally involved in the political
infighting among Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds.
"I told him that we're not satisfied with the pace of progress in Iraq, and
that we want to continue to work with the sovereign government of Iraq," Bush
said. He said the young Iraqi government needs to be given more capability as
quickly as possible to secure the country from extremists and murderers.
Bush is meeting on Thursday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair - a
day after the bipartisan Iraq Study Group issues its long-awaited
recommendations. Bush also plans to meet next month with Iraq's Sunni Vice
President Tariq al-Hashemi. Last week, he met in Jordan with al-Maliki.
Before al-Hakim's visit to the United States, two al-Maliki aides and a third
person close to al-Hakim said the cleric was expected to try to persuade Bush to
enlist Iran's help in quelling violence in Iraq.