President Bush will meet with one of the most powerful Iraqi Shiite leaders on Monday and has scheduled a meeting with Iraq's Sunni vice president next month.
The talks with Bush and His Eminence Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the United Iraqi Alliance, will focus on "an exchange of views and a discussion of important issues facing Iraq today," according to National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
The scheduled talks come days after the NATO summit in Jordan where Bush met with Iraq Prime Minister Nuri Kamel al-Maliki. Maliki supported Bush throughout the summit but faces tough criticism from administration officials for not using more of his leadership powers to stop Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias, both responsible for thousands of deaths in Iraq.
A year ago, Bush met with another Mideast leader, President Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan regional government. Barzani was wearing traditional Kurdish clothing and Bush noted Barzani's comfort in wearing an outfit that would have landed him a death sentence under Saddam Hussein's leadership. Bush told the press, "He feels comfortable wearing it in his home country because Iraq is free."
Barzani thanked Bush for his "courage and bravery" in Iraq.
Shiite leader Hakim is also the leader of SCIRI, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iran, and is supported by the Iranians. He has a great presence in Iraq and is close to the most important Shiite cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Hakim holds great clout in Sistani's Iraqi community where the population is about 60 percent Shiite.
In addition to Monday's meeting with Hakim, Bush plans to meet with more Iraqi political leaders in the coming months.