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Al-Sadr Ministers Quit Cabinet Over Timetable

From a deeply saddened Associated Press:


Radical cleric allies quit Iraq Cabinet

By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writer

Cabinet ministers loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr resigned on Monday to protest the prime minister’s refusal to set a timetable for an American withdrawal, raising the prospect that the Mahdi Army militia could return to the streets of Baghdad.

The number of bodies found dumped in Baghdad increased sharply on Sunday to 30 — from as low as five in recent days — in a possible sign of the militia’s resurgence, even ahead of the six resignations.

The bodies, most of them tortured before they were shot execution-style, are widely believed to be the victims of Shiite death squads associated with the Mahdi Army. Al-Sadr had ordered his fighters hide their weapons and stay off the streets shortly before the U.S. troop surge and security crackdown began on Feb. 14.

The departure of the six ministers, while unlikely to topple Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, deals a significant blow to the U.S.-backed leader, who relied on support from the Sadrists to gain office.

Earlier in the day, Nassar al-Rubaie, head of the Sadrist bloc, declared that the ministers would “give the six Cabinet seats to the government, with the hope that they will be given to independents who represent the will of the people.”

The White House said al-Sadr’s decision to pull out his ministers does not mean that al-Maliki loses his majority.

“I’d remind you that Iraq’s system of government is a parliamentary democracy and it’s different from our system. So coalitions and those types of parliamentary democracies can come and go,” said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman.

Al-Sadr, who has tremendous influence among Iraq’s majority Shiites, has been upset about recent arrests of his Mahdi Army fighters in the U.S.-led Baghdad security crackdown. He and his followers have also criticized al-Maliki for failing to back calls for a timetable for U.S. troops to leave the country.

The prime minister issued a statement later Monday saying “the withdrawal of multinational forces is linked to our armed forces’ readiness to take over the security command in all provinces.” …

One week ago, al-Sadr mobilized tens of thousands of Iraqis for a peaceful demonstration in two Shiite holy cities, on the fourth anniversary of Baghdad’s fall. At the rally, many participants called for a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Al-Rubaie said the Sadrists’ withdrawal from the Cabinet was because the prime minister did not respond to demands made at last week’s demonstration.

He also relayed a demand by al-Sadr’s movement, that all detainees held by “occupation forces” be transferred to Iraqi authorities “because this is part of sovereignty.”

Al-Sadr’s followers hold six positions in the 37-member Cabinet, and 30 seats in the 275-member parliament. Monday’s order would affect only the Cabinet members.

“We will have a major role in working on a timetable in parliament. This will be our message to the government,” al-Rubaie said. “Setting a timetable for the withdrawal will be done in parliament.”

Other legislators said the withdrawal was likely to further destabilize al-Maliki’s already shaky hold on power.

“The withdrawal will affect the performance of the government, and will weaken it,” said Abdul-Karim al-Ouneizi, a Shiite legislator from the Dawa Party-Iraq Organization. Al-Ouneizi is from a different branch of the party al-Maliki heads.

One of the six who resigned, Saad Taha al-Hashimi, Iraq’s minister of state for provincial affairs, said the Sadrists would remain influential.

The movement, as it always has, will remain in society and the government to offer what is best and to push forward the political process,” al-Hashimi said…

How will they ever soldier on without them?

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, April 16th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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