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George Bush meets Shiite Cleric in Iraq

Written by: Staff

Washington, Dec 5: United States President George W Bush has met Iraq's largest Shiite party chief Abdul Aziz al-Hakim in pursuance of his efforts to reach out to leaders of various Iraqi factions in the hope of ''ending violence'' in the country.

''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,'' Mr Bush said after his meeting with the Iraqi cleric yesterday.

The two leaders discussed the importance of 'reconciliation' between Iraq's warring ethnic and sectarian groups and strategies for building capacity within the Iraqi security forces and the government to deal with the security challenges facing the country.

The President praised the Shiite leader as ''a man whose family suffered unbelievable violence at the hands of deposed Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, losing nearly 60 family members, and yet rather than being 'bitter', he is involved with helping the new government succeed.'' White House press secretary Tony Snow called al-Hakim a 'significant' force in Iraqi politics, saying, ''he's somebody who can play a very constructive role, and we hope he will.'' ''What the President is trying to do is to talk to significant leaders and make the case that it's important for people to build together across sectarian lines, to take the measures necessary for national reconciliation, for economic development,'' he added.

President Bush had met the Iraqi leader within four days after his discussions with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan.

While Mr Maliki and al-Hakim are both Shias, the latter did not support the former's bid for Prime Ministership, favoring instead a candidate from his own party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

With 128 seats in Parliament, SCIRI is the largest political bloc in the legislature.

The Shiite party chief had lived in exile in Iran for more than two decades and founded SCIRI.

Mr Bush is scheduled to meet Iraq's Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, next month. Mr Hashimi leads the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest political organisation representing Iraq's Sunni Arab minority.


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