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Published:December 5th, 2006 04:16 EST
Bush Meets with Iraqi Shiite Cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim

Bush Meets with Iraqi Shiite Cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim

By SOP newswire

Washington -- President Bush met with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of Iraq’s largest Shiite party, December 4 to discuss the importance of reconciliation between Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups.

“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,” Bush said after his meeting with the Iraqi cleric and political leader.  “I appreciated very much his eminence's strong position against the murder of innocent life.”

The two leaders discussed strategies for building capacity within the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government to deal with the security challenges facing the country.

Bush praised Hakim as “a man whose family suffered unbelievable violence at the hands of the dictator, Saddam Hussein -- he lost nearly 60 family members -- and yet rather than being bitter, he's involved with helping the new government succeed.”

White House press secretary Tony Snow called Hakim “a significant force in Iraqi politics, and he's somebody who can play a very constructive role, and we hope he will.”  Snow went on to say, “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.”

Bush’s meeting with Hakim comes just four days after his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan.  While Maliki and Hakim are both Shia, Hakim did not support Maliki’s bid for prime minister, 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.

Snow played down Hakim’s ties to Iran, where he lived in exile for more than two decades and founded SCIRI, saying Hakim has “made it clear that he sees himself as an Iraqi leader, not somebody who's beholden to Iran.”

As part of his effort to reach out to leaders from across Iraq’s political spectrum, Bush is scheduled to meet with Iraq’s Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, in January 2007.  Hashimi leads the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest political organization representing Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority.

A transcript of the Bush and Hakim remarks is available at the White House Web site.

For more information on U.S. policy, see Iraq Update.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

Source:DoS