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Iraqi PM meets with Sunni tribal chiefs in Ramadi

Story Highlights

Al-Maliki had 30-40 minute meeting with Anbar senior sheiks, tribal leaders
Al-Maliki traveled to Ramadi with new commander of coalition forces
• 4,000 Marines set to deploy in Anbar province
• Doctor: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani fully recovered
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made an unannounced trip Tuesday to Ramadi, where he met with Sunni tribal chiefs credited with helping turn the tide against al Qaeda in Iraq.

With al-Maliki was the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, who conducted a "battlefield tour," while al-Maliki met with local officials.

Four thousand new marines are set to arrive in Ramadi, 68 miles (110 kilometers) west of Baghdad, as part of a new "surge" in troop levels to counter insurgent violence. (Watch why Anbar is considered a major front in the fight to secure Baghdad Video)

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, held a 30-40 minute closed-door meeting with senior sheiks and tribal leaders in Sunni-dominated Anbar, said Maj. Jeff Pool, spokesman for Multi-National Force-West. No media or Multi-National Force personnel were present, said Pool.

Al-Maliki's visit was "an encouraging and positive" sign, Pool said, adding that it came about "because of progress seen here and in Baghdad."

"The big difference," Pool said, "is the involvement of the tribes.

Before, we were growing a military where there was none. Now we have police forces -- as many in al-Qaim (a town in Anbar) as in Falluja -- thousands of policemen."

In his first speech as coalition commander last week, Petraeus praised local leaders for supporting efforts to crack down on insurgents.

"Tribes in Ramadi have one after the other after another volunteered to join the local police and have all of a sudden become a very, very serious force for al Qaeda-Iraq to reckon with," he said.

"There's really only a small portion of eastern Ramadi that is still viewed as having some extremist elements in it."

Petraeus said Marines heading to Anbar will reinforce "positive developments out there," adding that with local Sunni tribal leaders' support, the province "that seemed nearly hopeless -- is a source of hope."

Al-Maliki's visit is somewhat symbolic, as the Shiite leader reaches out to tribal leaders in the Sunni-dominated region, amid months of sectarian killings in Baghdad and elsewhere. Minority Sunnis ruled under Saddam Hussein and his regime often oppressed Iraqis who belonged to the Shiite majority. Now, members of both sects share power with ethnic Kurds in Iraq's fledgling government.

Al-Maliki's trip brought praise from Sunni politician Nasser al-Ani with the Iraqi Islamic Party, according to The Associated Press.

"The prime minister's visit is part of the process and the plan to rescue Anbar province, which is a successful plan that has had good results," al-Ani told AP.

Doctor: Iraqi president fully recovered

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, has fully recovered and will return to Iraq on Wednesday, more than two weeks after he was flown to neighboring Jordan for medical treatment, his chief of staff said Tuesday.

There have been conflicting reports about what prompted his hospitalization.

Shortly after he was flown to the Jordanian capital of Amman, a hospital source at the King Hussein Medical Hospital told CNN, doctors there performed a catheterization procedure on his heart.

But his family and aides have denied he underwent such a procedure.

Talabani's private doctor and the spokesman for the presidency said he was suffering from exhaustion and lung inflammation and was undergoing a series of precautionary tests.

Talabani, 73, is expected to return to work in Baghdad in the next few days, his chief of staff Kamaran Karadaghi said.

In addition to his presidential duties, Talabani heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan -- one of the two main parties in Iraq's Kurdish region.

Other developments

  • Gunmen fired on worshippers leaving a Sunni mosque in Baghdad's southwestern Risala neighborhood on Tuesday, killing four, a Baghdad police official said.
  • Gunmen killed Judge Omar Abdullah in eastern Baghdad Tuesday as he was driving through the Zayuna neighborhood in his private car, police said.
  • Gunmen attacked an Iraqi police patrol Tuesday in the Zayuna district of eastern Baghdad, killing three police officers, police said.
  • A Katyusha rocket hit a residential area Tuesday in the central Baghdad district of Karrada, wounding nine people in the Shiite neighborhood, police said.
  • Nearly six in ten Americans want to see U.S. troops leave Iraq either immediately or within a year, and more would rather have Congress running U.S. policy in the conflict than President Bush, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday. Support for Bush's decision to dispatch additional troops to Iraq grew to 37 percent -- up from 32 percent in a mid-January poll. A slim majority of 52 percent say Congress should block funding for the new deployment. (Full story)
  • CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

    Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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