TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (AP) – President Bush on Sunday called Iraq’s top leaders to congratulate them on breaking a political impasse and urge the quick formation of a coalition government.

Bush said he told President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki and parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani that they have a duty to improve the lives of Iraqis, defeat the insurgency and unite the country.

“They have awesome responsibilities to their people,” Bush told military families in the mess hall at the Marine Corps Air Ground Center.

The Iraqi leaders “expressed their deep appreciation for the United States of America and our soldiers,” Bush said as he told the audience about three calls he had made early Sunday.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that Bush encouraged the leaders, especially al-Maliki, to act quickly and pick a Cabinet.

The spokesman said Bush praised al-Maliki, a Shiite who was a consensus nominee for prime minister, for signaling he was prepared to crack down on Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias responsible for the increasing sectarian violence that has threatened to push Iraq into civil war.

Bush also told al-Maliki he was encouraged by the Iraqi’s pledge to select capable representatives for his Cabinet.

The president stood in a cafeteria line before having lunch with several hundred Marines.

After the meal, he celebrated the political progress in Iraq. Al-Maliki was picked for the post on Saturday, ending months of political deadlock.

“Yesterday was an important day, but I recognize that we still have more work to do,” Bush said. “Democracy in Iraq will be a major blow to the terrorists who want to do us harm.”

Bush was enthusiastically received by Marines at this military base in the California desert. He attended services in the Protestant chapel before lunch.

“Because of your service we’re defeating an enemy overseas so we do not have to face them here at home,” Bush said in the mess hall. “These are historic times, and your service makes me incredibly proud.”

AP-ES-04-23-06 1609EDT