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Iraqi PM Al-Maliki Tells Bush, Rice It's No 'Big Deal' to Control Mahdi Army

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Nov. 30: Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki arrives to a joint press conference with President Bush in Amman, Jordan. (AP)

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed the Iraqi prime minister on Thursday to disband a heavily armed Shiite militia blamed for much of the country's sectarian violence and were told by Nouri al-Maliki that controlling the group was no "big deal."

A senior al-Maliki aide who attended Thursday's talks said the Iraqi leader presented Bush a blueprint for the equipping and training of Iraqi security forces. The aide, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitive nature of the information, declined to give details of the plan.

Bush and Rice repeatedly probed al-Maliki on his plans to deal with the Mahdi Army militia loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the aide said. The Iraqi prime minister was noncommittal.

"It is not a big problem and we will find a solution for it," the official quoted al-Maliki as telling Bush.

Al-Sadr is a key al-Maliki political backer and the prime minister has regularly sidestepped U.S. demands that the cleric's militia be disbanded.

At a news conference after their meetings, Bush declined to answer a question about the al-Sadr issue and deferred to al-Maliki.

"My coalition is not with only one entity," the Iraqi leader said. "Mr. al-Sadr and Sadrists (his political organization) are just one component."

The aide said Bush sought to drive home to al-Maliki that it was vital for the United States to succeed in Iraq and that a success would be a triumph for the Iraqi government.

Al-Maliki, according to the official, told Bush that Iraq recently gave Syria a list of names of senior members of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party who are living in Syria and continue to play a role in the Sunni-led insurgency that has torn at Iraq since 2003.

He said joint security committees which Syria and Iraq agreed to set up during last week's visit to Baghdad by the Syrian Foreign Minister would look into ways to curb their activity.