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White House memo doubts Iraqi leader's abilities

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NEW: Memo says U.S. must determine Iraqi leader's intentions
NEW: Bush security adviser says more U.S. troops may be needed
NEW: White House says Bush maintains confidence in Iraq leader
• Bush meeting al-Maliki on Wednesday in Jordan
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraq's prime minister saw his support eroding in two fronts Wednesday as a White House memo questioned his leadership and key backers within Iraq's government suspended support of his administration.

The classified memo by President Bush's national security adviser questions whether Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki can end sectarian violence in Iraq.

The details of the memo became known as Bush was to hold talks Wednesday and Thursday with al-Maliki in Jordan. The leaders are expected to discuss political and security strategies for Iraq.

The memo by Stephen Hadley outlines steps the United States could take to strengthen al-Maliki, including sending more U.S. troops to boost security in Baghdad.

"We should waste no time in our efforts to determine Maliki's intentions and, if necessary, to augment his capabilities," the memo said. (Watch how Bush is determined to win in Iraq Video)

The text of the memo appeared in Wednesday's New York Times. A senior administration official confirmed its authenticity for CNN.

The administration official said the leak of the memo was "not helpful."

"It's unfortunate that the White House's classified internal deliberations were leaked to the press," the official said.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said Wednesday that Bush retains confidence in al-Maliki, pointing out that the Iraqi leader has been "very aggressive in recent weeks in taking on some of the key challenges."

The November 8 memo was written after Hadley returned from Iraq and followed an October 30 meeting he had with al-Maliki, the Times reported.

"Maliki reiterated a vision of Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish partnership, and in my one-on-one meeting with him, he impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so," Hadley said in the memo.

Sectarian violence has been raging since the February 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has been accused of being overly tough on Sunnis while looking the other way when dealing with the transgressions of Shiite groups, including anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia. Al-Sadr's backing for al-Maliki as prime minister helped him get that job.

The memo talks of the Mehdi Army's "escalation" of killings" and a series of trends that "suggest a campaign to consolidate Shia power in Baghdad." The Mehdi Army is considered a major participant in the sectarian warfare raging in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.

The memo said there are reports of "intervention by the prime minister's office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones, removal of Iraq's most effective commanders on a sectarian basis and efforts to ensure Shia majorities in all ministries."

The report said it isn't clear that al-Maliki is "a witting participant" in this push for Shiite power, but "the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

"The information he receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of Dawa advisers, coloring his actions and interpretation of reality. His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change," the memo said. It was referring to al-Maliki's Dawa Party, one of the major Shiite political movements in Iraq.

Because of such problems, the memo concluded that "we returned from Iraq convinced we need to determine if Prime Minister Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian agendas being promoted by others."

"Do we and Prime Minister Maliki share the same vision for Iraq?" the memo asks.

Despite the expressed concerns, the memo lays out an extensive series of steps the United States can take to help the Iraqi leader, including boosting his political base and fortifying the country's security capabilities.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux and Ed Payne contributed to this report.


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Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki arrives Wednesday in Amman, Jordan, for a meeting with President Bush.

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