The U.S. ambassador to Iraq said Sunday that the United States looks forward to working with Iraq's prime minister-designate, calling him an "Iraqi patriot."

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said in a televised interview that Jawad al-Maliki has a "reputation for being a strong leader, a patriotic leader, without being subordinate or having strong ties to any of the regional players."

Al-Maliki has 30 days to assemble a national unity government of Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties. U.S. and Iraqi officials hope that government can stem sectarian violence that has swelled over the past months during a stalemate over the government.

Sunni Arabs blame the violence on Shiite militias said to have infiltrated the Shiite-held Interior Ministry.

Khalilzad said al-Maliki "is a tough-minded" leader who has taken strong positions against terrorism.

"We will have to wait and see how he does in office, but the indications are positive," he said.