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4 Marine deaths in copter crash swell weekend total

Four U.S. Marines died when a Sea Knight helicopter plunged into a lake in volatile Anbar province, the military said Monday, raising to 13 the number of American troops killed during a bloody weekend in Iraq.

It was the second U.S. aircraft to go down in a week in Anbar, a stronghold of Sunni insurgents, although the military said mechanical problems forced the emergency landing on Sunday.

High numbers of U.S. casualties and a recent spike in violence between Shiites and Sunnis have contributed to doubts in the United States about the Iraq war. These concerns were considered a major factor in Democrats' takeover of the House and Senate in the Nov. 7 elections.

President Bush told one of Iraq's leading Shiite politicians, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, in a White House meeting on Monday that the United States was not satisfied with progress in Iraq.

"I assured him that the U.S. supports his work and the work of the prime minister to unify the country," Bush said, referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "Part of unifying Iraq is for the elected leaders and society leaders to reject the extremists that are trying to stop the advance of this young democracy."

Bush is under pressure to draft a new blueprint for U.S. involvement in Iraq. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group is expected to present its recommendations to Bush on Wednesday.

White House officials have portrayed Hakim's visit as an effort by Bush to reach out to various factions in Iraq. Hakim leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest Shiite bloc in Iraq's parliament.

Hakim said U.S. troops need to stay in Iraq to help deal with escalating violence. But he rejected one of the recommendations that the Iraq Study Group is expected to make - a call for a regional conference to help foster peace.

But Hakim said Iraq welcomes help from other nations, including those in the Middle East, so long as they do not bypass Iraq's political process. "Iraq should be in a position to solve Iraqi problems," he told reporters after he and Bush met in the Oval Office for more than an hour.

In Iraq, the deaths of the four Marines came on a weekend in which nine other U.S. troops were killed, including five in Anbar. The weekend's violence pushed the total number of American service members deaths to at least 2,901.

Twelve passengers survived the helicopter crash. Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman, declined to provide details about the twin-rotor CH-46 helicopter's mission or the reason for its forced landing.

A U.S. fighter jet also crashed last week in a field, killing the Air Force pilot.

The violence in Iraq persisted Monday, with at least 13 people killed nationwide. Police also found at least 56 bodies.

Fast facts

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim

Age: 55

Experience: A theologian and a politician, he is leader of Iraq's largest political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. He is believed to head the council's military wing, the Badr Brigade. He lived in exile in Iran for more than two decades before returning home in 2003 after the ouster of Saddam Hussein. His brother and party founder Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim was killed in a bombing in August 2003.

Quotable: "Iraq should be in a position to solve Iraqi problems. We welcome any effort that could enhance the democratic reality in Iraq and protect the constitutional role of that state."

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