Bush: Iraq progress too slow

Updated: 2006-12-05 08:47

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.

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]
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.

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"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.

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