A top Iraqi Shi'ite leader has called for controls on U.S.-backed local Sunni groups that are fighting al-Qaida-linked insurgents.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who heads the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, the largest Shi'ite party in the Baghdad government, praised the role of the Sunni patrol groups in contributing to a sharp decline in violence. But he stressed that the groups -known as "Awakening Councils" - should operate in coordination with the government.

In Baghdad Friday, Hakim said the groups should be an arm of the government in fighting terrorists, but not a substitute for it.

Also Friday, Iraqi officials said new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an unannounced visit to Baghdad for talks with his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki. Mr. Rudd was elected last month on campaign promises to withdraw about 500 Australian combat troops from Iraq by mid-2008.

Iraqi officials said Mr. Rudd promised Friday to continue supporting Baghdad after the withdrawal in its efforts to achieve security .

About 1,000 other Australian troops are involved in non-combat operations in and around Iraq.


Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.