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Bush to Press Iraqi Premier On Security

But the relationship has grown fractious as repeated efforts to curb violence in Baghdad have failed. Administration aides have expressed frustration that Maliki has not moved more aggressively against Shiite Muslim militias, while he has bristled at pressure from Washington.

Sadr, the leader of one of those militias, is a key supporter of Maliki's government and a growing political power in the country. Curbing militias such as Sadr's Mahdi Army and bringing sectarian fighting under control are considered critical tests of Iraq's ability to govern itself -- and of the ability of U.S. forces to withdraw without leaving behind a chaotic situation.

Hadley, speaking Tuesday afternoon with reporters in Riga, offered a sober assessment of the Maliki government. He said efforts to secure Baghdad by U.S. and Iraqi forces have "not produced adequate progress in an acceptable time frame." He said Maliki had taken steps to reconcile warring religious and political factions but "obviously they have a long way to go."

Contrary to the doubts expressed in his memo, Hadley told reporters he was not criticizing Maliki, adding that he disagreed with the view in Iraq that Maliki is ineffectual. "We think that this unity government is doing pretty well in a very difficult situation," he said. "Maliki has been impatient and has said that his government has not produced the results they seek. And he's got some ideas about how to enhance their capabilities to do so."

Maliki faces criticism at home for going ahead with his meetings with Bush. Sadr's faction has threatened to bolt the government if the meetings take place, though it was unclear whether the threat would be carried out.

"We don't want or like this meeting, particularly at this time, because the country is in the midst of a security crisis, and the presence of the prime minister is necessary," said Bahaa al-Araji, a member of parliament from Sadr's bloc. "We are concerned that the prime minister may receive instructions from Bush on the security situation. We believe that the government must have the final say on such matters because the security situation is something that concerns Iraq and its government only."

Joost Hiltermann, who follows Iraq for the nonprofit International Crisis Group from Jordan, voiced skepticism that Maliki would crack down on private militias. "He is completely beholden to the Sadrists," he said. "The notion that he could confront the power of the militias that gave him power is absurd."

"There is a problem with saying that we need to get the Iraqis to take charge of the situation," said Eliot A. Cohen, a professor of military strategy at Johns Hopkins University. "By virtue of the kind of government we helped create -- particularly one based on proportional representation -- and because the institutions of the Iraqi state are weak, even if we can get him to promise, we cannot reasonably expect him to deliver much."

Before leaving for Jordan on Wednesday, Bush will finish meetings with other NATO leaders gathered here for a summit that is focusing heavily on the alliance's mission in Afghanistan. U.S. officials were hopeful that the summit would yield new troops for the fight against the resurgent Taliban, as well as a loosening of restrictions from member countries on how those troops can be used.

In a speech here, Bush alluded to these issues in saying that NATO commanders "must have the resources and flexibility they need to do their jobs."

Bush started the day with a round of meetings in Tallinn with the leaders of Estonia, the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited the tiny Baltic country. Bush has now visited each of the three Baltic nations that gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Given their experiences with despotism, Bush has found a more congenial audience in these countries for his message of promoting democracy and the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Special correspondent K.I. Ibrahim in Baghdad and staff writers Peter Baker and Thomas E. Ricks in Washington contributed to this report.

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