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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 02:35 GMT
Shia leader stresses Iraq's role
Abdel Aziz al-Hakim (l) meets George W Bush (r)
Abdel Aziz al-Hakim (l) has wide influence among Iraq's Shias
One of Iraq's most powerful Shia leaders has said he is opposed to any foreign move to solve Iraq's problems that bypasses the Baghdad government.

Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the largest bloc in Iraq's parliament, made the comments during a meeting with US President George W Bush.

Mr Bush told Mr Hakim that he is "not satisfied" with conditions in Iraq.

But during talks at the White House, Mr Bush said he told Mr Hakim that the US fully supported the Iraqi government.

Mr Hakim told the US president that the Iraqis should resolve problems by themselves but said he believed American troops should remain in the country.

Turning point

The talks comes ahead of confirmation hearings for the man chosen to be the new US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, and the publication of findings of the Iraq Study Group.

The BBC's Justin Webb, in Washington, says this may be the week that many observers believe will mark the beginning of the end of US involvement in Iraq.

"I told his eminence that I was proud of the courage of the Iraqi people. I told him that we're not satisfied with the pace of progress in Iraq," the Associated Press quotes Mr Bush as saying.

Speaking after meeting the US president, Mr Hakim said he "vehemently" opposed any regional or international effort to solve Iraq's problems that ignored the wishes of the Iraqi government.

"Iraq should be in a position to solve Iraq's problems," AP quotes Mr Hakim as saying.

Mr Hakim heads the largest Shia party in Iraq's parliament, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri).

Sciri has ties to Iran, and its former military wing has been accused of fuelling sectarian violence.

Militia worries

Mr Hakim, a cleric, enjoys wide influence in Iraq because of his party's popularity among the country's majority Shia population.

Woman in Baquba weeps over the body of a relative
Ongoing violence in Iraq is taking a heavy toll on the country
He lived in exile in Iran in the years before the fall of Saddam Hussein, and retains strong links with Tehran.

His Sciri party joined forces with a host of other Shia groups to win a majority of seats in Iraq's parliament in elections last December.

The former armed wing of Sciri, the Badr Brigade, has merged with the army and police force, but it has been accused of taking part in the torture and killing of Sunnis.

'New way forward'

Correspondents say Mr Bush's decision to meet Mr Hakim may be a sign that the president is reaching out to influential figures in Iraq to bolster the struggling government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

Mr Bush (right) meets Mr Maliki
Mr Bush's meeting with Iraq's PM was overshadowed by a leak

Mr Bush met Mr Maliki in Jordan last week, but that meeting was somewhat overshadowed by a leaked memo that appeared to question the Iraqi leader's authority and ability.

Mr Hakim travelled to the White House as the US was engaged in the most wide-scale reappraisal of its strategy in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which reports on Wednesday, is expected to recommend talks with Syria and Iran as part of a reappraisal of US policy.

The outgoing UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, claimed in a BBC interview on Monday that violence in Iraq was now "worse than a civil war", a suggestion denied by the Iraqi government.


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