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Bush Congratulates Iraqi Leaders on Naming Prime Minister

President Bush is encouraging Iraq's top leaders to move forward quickly and complete work on a new government now that there is agreement on the key post of prime minister. The president made the appeal personally in congratulatory phone calls to President Jalal Talabani, parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, and Prime Minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki.

President Bush says he told Iraq's top leaders that they have awesome responsibilities. "They have the responsibility of improving the lives of men and women regardless of their religious status and nature. They have a responsibility to defeat the terrorists. They have a responsibility to unite their country," he said.

Mr. Bush placed the calls to Iraq shortly before a visit to a military base in the California desert where he attended church and joined Marines and their families for lunch.

He praised their efforts to help bring democracy to Iraq, and noted that he is not alone in extending thanks. He said the Iraqi officials he talked with on the telephone spoke of their appreciation for the U.S. military. "They understand the sacrifices that you are making on their behalf and they are grateful for those sacrifices," he said.

His words brought cheers from his audience at the 29 Palms Marine Air Ground Combat Center -- the largest Marine base in the country.

Mr. Bush called the official selection Saturday of a prime minister designate after months of political wrangling a milestone. But he made clear much remains to be done before democracy takes hold in Iraq and the country is finally at peace. "Yesterday was an important day. But I realize we still have more work to do. Democracy in Iraq will be a major blow to the terrorists who want to do us harm," he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that during his telephone calls to Iraq, President Bush was encouraged by Jawad al-Malaki's stated willingness to crack down on those responsible for spreading sectarian violence. McClellan said Mr. Bush urged the prime minister-designate to choose a cabinet as quickly as possible.