WASHINGTON – President Bush told an Iraqi power broker on Monday that the United States was not satisfied with the progress of efforts to stop the sharp escalation of violence in Iraq.
Bush met at the White House with Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the Shiite leader of the largest bloc in Iraq's parliament.
Al-Hakim said that he "vehemently" opposes any regional or international effort to solve Iraq's problems that goes around the unity government in Baghdad.
"Iraq should be in a position to solve Iraq's problems," al-Hakim said.
The president said he spoke with al-Hakim for more than an hour and said they had a "very constructive conversation."
"I assured him that the U.S. supports his work and the work of the prime minister to unify the country," Bush said, referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
"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.
"We talked about the need to give the government Iraq more capability as soon as possible so the elected government of Iraq can do that which the Iraqi people want to secure their country from extremists and murderers," Bush said. "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. And that we want to continue to work with the sovereign government of Iraq."
Al-Hakim, after what he called a "very clear" meeting earlier with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, told reporters in Arabic that "we have asked for the American forces to stay in Iraq" to enable Iraqi security to deal with terrorists.
Monday's developments came amid an atmosphere of rising expectations about a new U.S. policy in Iraq and an acknowledgment by Bush's national security adviser that Bush accepts that a new approach is warranted.
National security adviser Stephen Hadley said Sunday that while Bush recognizes something different needs to be done, the president won't use the recommendations due this week from the Iraq Study Group as political cover for bringing troops home.
"We have not failed in Iraq," Hadley said as he made the talk show rounds Sunday. "We will fail in Iraq if we pull out our troops before we're in a position to help the Iraqis succeed."
He added: "The president understands that we need to have a way forward in Iraq that is more successful."
But, with the leak of another insider's secret memo, the second in a week, the administration found itself on the defensive.
The latest showed that Donald H. Rumsfeld called for a "major adjustment" in U.S. tactics on Nov. 6 — the day before an election that cost Republicans the Congress and Rumsfeld his job as defense secretary.
Hadley played down the memo as a laundry list of ideas rather than a call for a new course of action.
He said that Bush — just before a pivotal election — was not portraying a different sense of the war to the public than his own defense secretary was giving him in private.
The president "has said publicly what Rumsfeld said, that things are not proceeding well enough or fast enough in Iraq," Hadley said.
Democrats did not buy that.
"The Rumsfeld memo makes it quite clear that one of the greatest concerns is the political fallout from changing course here in the United States," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The bottom line is there is no one, including the former secretary, who thought the policy the president continues to pursue makes any sense."
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said the Rumsfeld memo was an example of how the administration has been "mischaracterizing and misstating this war." He said the Iraq conflict had devolved into a civil war. "There's two factions fighting for supremacy inside Iraq and our troops are caught in between," Murtha said on NBC's "Today" show. As incoming chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, Murtha said he would put pressure on the administration to redeploy U.S. troops there.
Bush has nominated Robert Gates to replace Rumsfeld. His confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is on Tuesday.
As pressure builds for a new strategy, the report from the Iraq Study Group increasingly is viewed as perhaps clearing the way for a U.S. exit strategy in Iraq. Hadley, though, said the review will be just one factor the White House considers.
After a meeting last week in Jordan, Bush expressed confidence that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government can lead the country toward peace with support from the United States.
Yet Hadley found himself defending his own memo that called that very point into question.