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Iraq Transition

Iraqi leader under fire from U.S., Shiite supporters

Story Highlights

NEW: Supporters of anti-U.S. cleric stop participation in Iraq government
• White House memo says U.S. must determine Iraqi leader's intentions
• Bush security adviser says more U.S. troops may be needed
• Bush meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Thursday in Jordan
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(CNN) -- Iraq's prime minister saw his support erode on two fronts Wednesday as a White House memo questioned his leadership and a powerful political bloc suspended participation in Iraq's government.

The classified memo by President Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley questions whether Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki can end the bloody sectarian violence in Iraq, and especially whether he can rein in the Mehdi Army militia loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Hours after details of the Hadley memo first appeared in Wednesday's New York Times, Cabinet ministers and members of the Iraqi parliament loyal to al-Sadr underscored al-Maliki's shaky position, saying they would stop participating in his government. (Watch how memo outlines possible courses for change Video)

The al-Sadr supporters had said earlier they would take such action if al-Maliki went ahead with a meeting with Bush on Thursday in Jordan.

There are about 30 lawmakers loyal to al-Sadr in the 275-member parliament, and six Cabinet ministers from his bloc. (Watch how loss of support endangers al-Maliki Video)

Bush and al-Maliki are expected to discuss political and security strategies for Iraq during talks Thursday. The two had been expected to meet Wednesday evening, but the State Department said talks would begin Thursday.

The Hadley memo 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 [al-]Maliki's intentions and, if necessary, to augment his capabilities," the memo said. (Watch how Bush is determined to win in Iraq Video)

A senior administration official confirmed the memo's authenticity for CNN, but 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.

"[Al-]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 al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia. Al-Sadr's backing for al-Maliki as prime minister helped him get that job.

Memo considers Shiite power

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 [al-]Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian agendas being promoted by others."

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

Despite the expressed concerns, the memo lays out extensive 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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