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Bush Pushes Transfer of Security Duties to Iraqis

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Bush Pushes Transfer of Security Duties to Iraqis

Iraq

Bush Pushes Transfer of Security Duties to Iraqis

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie sitting in for Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

We turn now to Iraq and the increasingly urgent search for solutions. President Bush conferred today in Amman, Jordan, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The meeting comes as details of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's final report were leaked to The New York Times. The report says the group will call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American brigades now in Iraq but without a specific timetable. More on that in a moment.

First we turn to NPR's David Greene, who is in Amman, Jordan. David, Prime Minister Maliki came into this meeting hoping to take over more control of the security forces in his country. Did that come up?

DAVID GREENE: It sure did, and from listening to the two leaders today that was really the big theme here. President Bush said he's ready for Maliki to start taking more command and control over Iraqi security forces. Mr. Bush said he has confidence in Maliki and that, as Mr. Bush put it, Maliki is the right guy for Iraq. Now the president downplayed the notion that this will mean the U.S. is ready to leave Iraq. He said reports in the U.S. of a graceful exit for U.S. troops, as he put it, are wrong. But here's a bit of what the president had to say about his confidence in Maliki.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The sign of leadership is for somebody to say I want to be able to have the tools necessary to protect my people. One of his frustrations with me is that he believes we've been slow about giving him the tools necessary to protect the Iraqi people.

MONTAGNE: But then President Bush is saying this in the context of a leaked memo where the White House expressed some pretty serious doubts about Maliki's ability to lead.

GREENE: Very serious doubts in that memo that surfaced this week, suggesting Maliki might be ignorant of what's happening in his country. And this question of Maliki's leadership and whether he really can contain the violence if he assumes more control was an issue just looming over these meetings.

But the two men really got into very few specifics. Just one example, Renee, they were asked about the extraordinary influence the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has over Maliki's government. Sadr has a very active militia, but in many ways Maliki needs him politically to keep his government together. Maliki was asked what he'll do to keep Sadr in check, and the prime minister simply said Sadr is one part of his government and he's not going to pit one part of his government against another. So not getting into specifics. The president wouldn't talk about Sadr.

See, Mr. Bush wanted to come here, express public confidence in Maliki, talk about giving his government more responsibility at a time when many Americans want the U.S. to begin reducing its involvement in Iraq. But very little mention of all this raging sectarian violence and exactly what military forces moving into the control of the Iraqi government can really do about it.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, the prime minister was supposed to hold an initial meeting with President Bush last night but he called it off rather abruptly. What do we know about what happened?

GREENE: Not much, Renee. Maliki was asked very clearly why he called off the meeting. He simply said that a three-way meeting with Mr. Bush and the king of Jordan was not on his agenda.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. NPR's David Greene with the president in Amman, Jordan.

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