Iraq's premier tells al-Sadr to disband militia

(dpa) - Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Monday that his movement will be barred from political participation unless it disbands its militia.

Al-Maliki was quoted by US television network CNN as saying a decision has already been made to disallow the al-Sadr Bloc from taking part in the political process unless it disbands its Mahdi Army militia.

The Al-Sadr Bloc has a big following among poor Shiite Muslims in southern provinces and parts of Baghdad and it made impressive gains in legislative elections in December 2005. It has 30 of 275 seats in parliament.

However, al-Maliki's ultimatum dampens the bloc's hopes of potential big gains in municipal elections slated for October.

Al-Sadr had ordered his fighters over a week ago to halt fighting against government troops, who launched a crackdown targeting militias in Basra and other provinces on March 25.

Sadrists accused the government of launching the offensive to torpedo their potential election gains in favour of their rivals from the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

Hostilities stopped in Basra but the Mahdi Army's stronghold in Sadr City in east Baghdad has continued to be the scene of sporadic fighting between al-Sadr's militiamen and Iraqi and US troops.

At least 20 people were killed and 50 injured in fighting in Sadr City on Sunday.

Meanwhile the US military said two of its soldiers were killed and 17 wounded in rocket attacks on Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.

In a separate attack on a base in the Rustumiyah area on Sunday, a US soldier was killed and 14 were injured, according to the military.

On Saturday, Iraq's main political leaders - all members of the council of national security - urged all political groups to disband their militias or face a ban from political participation.

The al-Sadr Bloc was the only political group to reject the council's statement.

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