US President George W Bush met with one of Iraq's top Shia leaders Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim to discuss US relations with the country's largest ethnic group.
Bush's meeting with al-Hakim on Monday at the White House came amid concerns that the Shias and minority Sunnis were on the verge of an all-out civil war.
Bush told reporters that steps needed to be taken to make the Iraqi government more capable so it can defend the people against 'extremists and murderers'.
Al-Hakim heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and his party controls the largest block of Shia seats in Iraq's parliament. Al-Hakim was critical of the portrayal of his country as overly focused on the sectarian strife and not on the progress that is being made.
"We have gone a long way to establish a democratic and pluralistic society in Iraq," al-Hakim said through a translator.
Bush has been reviewing his administration's policy in Iraq. On Wednesday, a bipartisan panel of foreign policy experts is expected to release its recommendations to end the conflict and begin withdrawing the 150,000 US soldiers in Iraq.
The meeting took place after weekend reports of a memo penned by outgoing Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that called for "major adjustments" to the approach in Iraq.
Bush's meeting with al-Hakim is seen as an effort by the White House to reach out across Iraq's political spectrum to get more support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and make him less dependent on Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American Shia influence who wields a great deal of influence through is militia.
Al-Maliki at the moment requires al-Sadr's support in the coalition but has not had the backing of al-Hakim. Al-Hakim also has close ties to the Iranians, but the White House insisted the meeting was not a way to communicate to Tehran.
It was expected that the bipartisan panel called the Iraq Study Group would urge the administration to engage Iran and Syria to try to secure their help in lessening violence in Iraq.