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Bush Praises Iraq's Maliki as 'Strong Leader,' Pledges Continued Support


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. President George Bush say they are working together to stop sectarian violence in Iraq. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports the men discussed the way forward at talks in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Following the worst week for civilian casualties in Iraq since the war began, Prime Minister Maliki says the challenges facing his government can be overcome.

Speaking through a translator, Mr. Maliki said he and the president have agreed to speed the transfer of more responsibility to Iraqi security forces.

"These are not outrageous challenges. There are criminals. There are people who are breaking the law," he said. " But the steel strength of the national unity government will help us face all those who are breaking the law and those who are trying to take down democracy in Iraq."

President Bush says he is realistic about the challenges facing the Iraqi prime minister but has no doubt he is the right man for the job.

"I was reassured by his commitment to a pluralistic society that is politically united and a society in which people are held to account if they break the law, whether those people be criminals, al-Qaeda, militia, or whoever," Mr. Bush said.

The president says he appreciates the prime minister's courage over the last six months, as he makes what Mr. Bush calls "hard decisions" for the future of his people.

"No question, it has been tough," he said. " It would have been a lot easier had people not tried to destabilize the young democracy. His job would have been more simple had there not been terrorists trying to create sectarian violence."

The president and prime minister met for several hours at a Jordanian hotel, to discuss sectarian violence and ways in which neighboring states can better support the Maliki government.

Their talks were not without controversy.

The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and a centrist political party organized protests denouncing any cooperation with the Bush Administration.

Three-way talks with Jordanian King Abdullah scheduled for Wednesday evening were abruptly canceled by Jordanian and Iraqi officials after the prime minister and king met earlier in the day.

That left White House officials scrambling to make clear the change was not a snub and was in no way related to the publication of a previously-classified White House memo raising doubts about the prime minister's capacity to stop sectarian violence.

Six cabinet ministers and 30 legislators loyal to Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are boycotting Iraq's parliament and the Maliki government, to protest the prime minister's meeting with Mr. Bush.

The president, in turn, is facing opposition on Iraq from leaders of the Democratic Party, who won control of both houses of Congress in this month's elections.

Many Democrats want the more than 140,000 American troops in Iraq to start coming home.

President Bush says U.S. troops will stay in Iraq "to get the job done," as long as the sovereign government there wants them.