An influential Iraqi Shi'ite leader is calling for more international help in fighting terrorism in his country, although he has rejected the idea of an international conference on resolving problems in Iraq. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim heads the Iraqi Shi'ite faction known as the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution, which holds a large block of seats in the Iraqi parliament.
Speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace Monday, Hakim listed nine developments he believes are necessary to bring peace and stability to Iraq. Among them was working with neighboring countries to fight terrorism and disarming militias.
"It makes no difference whether they were in the regions or the provinces or all over Iraq, the country should be clear of any militias, the weapons and arms should be only in the hands of the state, the government," said Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. "And the armed forces are the ones who are responsible for securing the country and providing security."
Iraqi militias include the Badr Brigade, the military wing of Hakim's faction, which he used to head. Hakim said the Badr Brigade was converted into the civilian Badr Organization in 2003, and he denied accusations the group was responsible for abductions, murder and torture.
He said Iraq needs greater international support, but not more foreign troops.
"I didn't mean to bring in more of the multi-national forces or forces from the U.N., but it could be provided through different means and ways - political levels, information or intelligence information, training, more training for the Iraqi forces," he said.
When asked whether he thought a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq was necessary for the country's peace and stability, Hakim gave no direct answer. But he added that he believes the Iraqi people do not welcome the presence of foreign troops on Iraqi soil, unless, in his words, "they are forced to."
Earlier in the day, following an hour-long meeting with President Bush at the White House, Hakim rejected the idea of an international peace conference, saying the problems in Iraq should be resolved by Iraqis.
President Bush reaffirmed his support for the Iraqi government, but indicated he is not happy with progress in Iraq.
"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."
Mr. Bush urged Hakim to continue to work for national unity.