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At Jordan summit, Bush and Maliki search for allies

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Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wouldn't appear to have much in common with President Bush at first blush. The garrulous Texan is a promoter of secular democracy who was born into a prominent political family. Mr. Maliki is a stern, former Shiite militant who favors a role for Islamic law in the Iraqi state and spent 23 years in exile in Iran and Syria.

But as the two leaders meet in Jordan for a two-day summit on quelling the war in Iraq, they share a problem that may prevent bold moves: With Iraq looking as unstable as it has since the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein, both face a backlash from constituents at home.

Mr. Maliki, who has been on the job for seven months, is under increasing attack from average Iraqis – angry over the daily sectarian carnage and deterioration in basic services – and Shiite power brokers, especially, the militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose political support for Maliki helped swing the premiership in his favor.

The poor situation in Iraq is pushing both men to reach beyond their cabinets and national borders for solutions, as their meeting today symbolizes. The two men will also meet with Jordan's King Abdullah, as they reach out to regional powers. Indeed, some in the US welcome the new Bush approach of turning to a broader range of advisers.

But whether King Abdullah, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad – whom Iraqi President Jalal Talabani visited Monday for help with stabilizing Iraq – or the Iraq Study Group (ISG) led by former Secretary of State James Baker (expected to announce new ideas for pacifying Iraq in the coming weeks), will be able to find a path leading away from civil war is far from certain.

"You've created an elephant [the ISG] to give birth to a mouse,'' says Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He says that the ISG recommendations are more likely to produce small changes in the US policy toward Iraq than sweeping new approaches.

Mr. Cordesman approves of talking to neighbors of Iraq, including Iran, because that's in the long-term interests of the US. But he is pessimistic about the possibility of short-term improvements.


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