Bush Urges Cabinet to Assist Iraqi Counterparts

President Bush on Tuesday directed his entire Cabinet, from the housing chief to the treasury secretary, to assist their Iraqi counterparts once a permanent government is formed.

"By making a broad commitment from the federal government, we'll help the Iraqis establish a democracy, we'll help them build the institutions necessary for a stable society, and we'll help defeat the terrorists," the president said.

The president was surrounded on the Rose Garden steps by more than a dozen department secretaries and Cabinet-rank officials from his administration.

While Bush spoke at the White House about a future government, talks in Iraq to make it a reality remained fragile.

After a one-day boycott, Shiite leaders returned to the negotiations on how to replace the current caretaker government with a broad-based national one representing all of Iraq's factions.

Bush said he was pleased the talks resumed. But Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish representatives are struggling over issues such as how to apportion the most powerful posts.

U.S. officials are eager for quick resolution on a unity government in hope it would quell the daily violence in Iraq and set the stage for the start of a drawdown of U.S. troops.

Bush's remarks followed a more than hourlong Cabinet meeting on Iraq and the fight against terrorism. Participants received a briefing from Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East; Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq; and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Khalilzad told the president that the Iraqi negotiators "have made a lot of tough choices and ... reached a lot of compromises."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brought up the need for each Cabinet member to build relationships with his eventual Iraqi counterpart, and Bush said he told them, "I expect them to follow through on that."

Bush also met Tuesday with three delegations of lawmakers from both parties who have recently visited Iraq. The president planned to speak about Iraq on Wednesday.