Friday, December 22, 2006


Al-Sadr agrees to stop boycott of parliament

Politics, Security
Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has agreed to allow supporters to rejoin the Iraqi government after a three-week boycott, officials close to the militia leader said Thursday, as political rivals pushed to form a coalition without him. In the southern city of Najaf, delegates from seven Shiite parties appealed to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose word is law to many Shiites, to support a planned governing coalition. The coalition would include Shiites, Kurds and one Sunni party, and bridge Iraq's treacherous sectarian divide.
Though al-Sistani is expected to approve the deal, he fears the coalition could weaken the Shiite bloc, officials close to him said on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to the press. It seems likely that al-Sistani intervened to persuade al-Sadr to return to government and avoid a Shiite split. The Sadrist boycott has undercut Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government and prevented it from passing legislation.
The new coalition would probably govern more efficiently than the current government, which has been criticized for its ties to al-Sadr. Al-Sadr's loyalists, 30 in the legislature and six in the Cabinet, walked off the job to protest al-Maliki's meeting with Bush in Jordan. However, a new coalition government is not likely to end the threat from al-Sadr's militia. By ending the boycott, al-Sadr will retain some influence in parliament, and his apparent compromise may help him resist calls to curb his fighters.
Three politically influential Iraqis said the Sadrist boycott is ending. "Within two days, the al-Sadr movement will return to the government and parliament," said Abdul Karim al-Anizi, a Shiite lawmaker from al-Maliki's Dawa faction. Two figures in al-Sadr's movement, an aide to the cleric and a member of parliament, also said the cleric had agreed to allow his followers to end their boycott. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the talks.
"We will rejoin the government and the parliament very soon," the lawmaker said. "We got some guarantees during our meeting today." On Thursday, al-Sadr loyalists met with members of the Shiite bloc and laid out their demands, the lawmaker said. "Our demands are to hand over the security file and not allow any regional interference in Iraqi affairs," he said, meaning, apparently, that U.S. forces must hand over all control of security forces to the Iraqi government.

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