WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – U.S. President George W. Bush will hold White House talks with a top leader of Iraq’s majority Shi’ites on Monday and will also meet the country’s Sunni vice president next month, U.S. officials said.
The scheduled talks appeared to signal more direct engagement by Bush, following a crisis summit with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Jordan on Thursday, to help calm sectarian violence in Iraq.
The White House said on Friday Bush will meet Shi’ite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim for “an exchange of views and a discussion of important issues facing Iraq today.” Hakim heads the SCIRI movement, whose armed wing, the Badr Brigade, has been accused of running death squads, an allegation it denies.
Bush will meet Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi next month, an administration official said, but gave no further details.
Bush, under pressure for a change of course in Iraq, is awaiting a report on Wednesday by a bipartisan commission led by former Secretary of State James Baker, which is expected to urge a gradual withdrawal of U.S. combat troops in Iraq.
While Maliki received strong backing from Bush in Amman, the Iraqi leader remains under pressure to get tougher with Sunni insurgents and Shi’ite militias that have created virtual no-go zones in Baghdad and are blamed for thousands of deaths.
SCIRI, The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was founded in Iran in 1982 and is part of the United Alliance, a grouping of Shi’ite Islamist parties that won a near majority in the parliament elected in December.
Minority Sunnis have accused SCIRI’s Badr organization, which is believed to have many members in Iraq’s new police force, of carrying out assassinations.