Bush to meet separately with Shiite, Sunni leaders

December 02, 2006|By James Gerstenzang | James Gerstenzang,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- One day after returning from Middle East meetings that defined anew the depths of his administration's problems in Iraq, President Bush invited two key Iraqi leaders to the White House in the coming weeks, expanding his contacts among the Shiite Muslim and Sunni Arab communities.

Bush plans to meet on Monday with Abdelaziz Hakim, leader of the United Iraqi Alliance, one of the two main parties in the majority Shiite governing alliance, and in January with Iraqi Vice President Tariq Hashimi, the head of the largest party representing Iraq's Sunni minority.

The meetings, following the president's session Thursday in Amman, Jordan, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, reflect the multiple factions often working at cross-purposes in Iraq and the difficulty the administration faces as it seeks to gain cooperation from competing power centers and sects.

Hashimi was chosen to fill the Sunni seat in a power-sharing arrangement that puts the minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds in senior government positions beneath al-Maliki.

In the past seven months, he has lost a sister and a brother to Iraq's growing sectarian warfare.

Hakim heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, known as SCIRI. It was established in Iran in 1982, providing a political home for Iraqi exiles there during the rule of Saddam Hussein, and is part of the United Alliance.

He will be among a delegation of Iraqi politicians visiting the United States.

Given Hakim's role in SCIRI, the meeting Bush intends to hold with him represents a reaching out to a leader with ties to Iran, even as the administration steadfastly refuses to deal directly with the regime in Tehran.

Members of an armed wing of Hakim's organization known as the Badr Brigade have been accused of engaging in criminal activity under the cover of official Iraqi security forces. But Hakim, a Shiite Muslim cleric, is thought to follow a more mainstream approach.

Hakim is scheduled to visit Bush shortly before the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat, is expected to make public a report proposing shifts in the administration's Iraq policy.

Gordon D. Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said that Bush had met with other senior Iraqi officials during tours of Washington.

He said that Bush was "not specifically looking for anything from them" but wanted "to hear how they see things in Iraq."

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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