"We've talked with the Iraqis about the best path forward in terms of improving the security situation here in Baghdad.

"And I think we have a broad strategic agreement between the Iraqi military, and the Iraqi government and our military."

 

Al-Sadr dilemma

 

Tensions exist over al-Maliki's wishes to include Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia leader, into the unity coalition, despite US attempts to sideline him.

 

"This is a country that is worth the investment, because once it emerges as a country that is a stabilising factor, you will have a very different kind of Middle East"

Condoleezza Rice,
US Secretary of State

US officials have made it clear that they favour realignment in Iraq's unity government, which would exclude al-Sadr and his Shia movement, with the violence of Iraq's vicious sectarian war at an all time high.

 

Last month, al-Sadr appeared to have helped US officials angling for an end to his influence by withdrawing 32 MPs and six ministers from the coalition in protest at al-Maliki's decision to meet Bush for talks in Jordan.

 

However, Iraqi politicians met al-Sadr's allies in Najaf, in order to encourage him back into the coalition.

 

Nasser al-Rubaie, the leader of Sadr's parliamentary bloc, said, "the Shia coalition has put in place a committee to discuss the al-Sadr return to parliament and to government".

 

'Worthwhile' war

 

Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, has said Iraq should be seen as the focus of US policy in the Middle East.

 

"There have been plenty of markers that show that this is a country that is worth the investment, because once it emerges as a country that is a stabilising factor, you will have a very different kind of Middle East".

 

George Bush, the US president, has said he will announce a new strategy in January after listening to the advice of his military commanders, State Department officials, Iraqi leaders and Gates, who said he would report back to the president this weekend.

 

In recent months, many of those advising the White House, including Tony Blair, the British prime minister, and the Iraq Study Group, have suggested that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the real key to peace in the region.