President Bush had talks at the White House Monday with an influential Shi'ite leader from Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports it is part of an effort by Mr. Bush to reach out to leaders of various Iraqi factions in hopes of ending the violence plaguing that country.
The president welcomed Abdul Aziz al-Hakim with warm words, and an admission that not enough has been done to end the bloodshed that has claimed so many Iraqi lives.
"I told his eminence that I was proud of the courage of the Iraqi people," said President Bush. "I told him we are not satisfied with the pace of progress in Iraq."
Speaking to reporters at the end of their hour-long meeting, Mr. Bush reaffirmed his support for the young Iraqi government. Hakim heads one of the largest parliamentary factions in that government, and the president urged him to continue to seek national unity.
"I assured him the United States supports his work and the work of the prime minister to unify the country," he said. "Part of unifying Iraq is for the elected leaders and society leaders to reject the extremists that are trying to stop the advance of this young democracy."
President Bush said he appreciates Hakim's strong stand against the loss of innocent life, noting he knows the pain of losing loved ones only too well.
"This is a man whose family suffered unbelievable violence at the hands of the dictator, Saddam Hussein," continued President Bush. "He lost nearly 60 family members and yet rather than being bitter, he is involved with helping the new government succeed."
Hakim does not hold a ministerial post in the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But he has great influence because his faction - the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution - has men both in parliament and under arms through its military wing, the Badr Brigade.
Hakim said his talks with President Bush focused on ways to advance the work of the Iraqi government, and improve security in the country.
"The U.S. interests, the Iraqi interests, the regional interests, they are all linked," said Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. "Therefore, it is very important when we deal with this issue, we look at the interests of the Iraqi people. If we don't, this whole issue could backfire and could harm the interests of the region, the United States, and Iraq, as well."
He went on to reject the idea of an international conference on Iraq, saying Iraqi issues are for the Iraqi people to solve.
"We cannot bypass the political process," he said. "Iraq should be in a position to solve Iraqi problems. We welcome any effort that could enhance the democratic reality in Iraq and protect the constitutional role of that state."
The meeting with the Shi'ite leader came at a crucial time for the Bush administration's Iraq policy. On Wednesday, a high-level advisory panel authorized by Congress will present its recommendations regarding Iraq. And in a matter of weeks, opposition Democrats will assume formal control of the U.S. Congress.