Rice praises new Iraqi leader as "patriot" with whom U.S. can work

The Bush administration on Saturday said Iraq's choice for a new leader is a patriot and "somebody with whom we can work," even if he disagrees with the United States on certain issues.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, obviously relieved that months of political deadlock seemed to be at an end, said the U.S. will try to help strengthen Iraq's first permanent democratically selected government.

"It's a good day for Iraq, an important day for Iraq," Rice told reporters in a conference call not long after Iraq's president designated Jawad al-Maliki to form the new government.

President George W. Bush, traveling in California, was encouraged that the Iraqis had turned a corner "on their path to democracy," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

Bush was to speak on the developments in Iraq before an event in California late Saturday to promote his alternative energy proposals.

The administration sees the establishment of a permanent government in Iraq as an important step toward stabilizing the country and allowing for the drawdown of U.S. forces there.

Bush's approval rating is at the lowest point of his presidency, and the daily tide of bad news from Iraq beheadings and suicide bombings, attacks on U.S. soldiers is a chief reason.

Five U.S. soldiers were killed Saturday when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb while patrolling south Baghdad, the military said. Nearly 2,400 members of the U.S. military have died since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Squabbling among Iraq's political factions more than four months after national elections in December had weakened public approval in the U.S. for the war and fed the rising sectarian violence.

Al-Maliki, a consensus nominee for prime minister, opposed both Saddam Hussein and the invasion that toppled the dictator, reports AP.

O.Ch.