Cleric to End Iraq Government Boycott

The Associated Press
Thursday, December 21, 2006; 3:37 PM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has agreed to allow his supporters to go back to their positions in the Iraqi government after a three-week boycott to protest the Iraqi prime minister's meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, three officials close to the militia leader said late Thursday.

Al-Sadr's loyalists walked out of their positions in parliament and the Cabinet after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met Bush in Jordan three weeks ago.

Shiites from the Iraqi parliament's largest bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, were meeting Thursday in the holy city of Najaf, as part of a plan to persuade the anti-American cleric to persuade the anti-American militia leader to rejoin the political process and rein in his fighters.

They were in touch with al-Sadr's aides, and would meet the cleric himself Friday or Saturday, aides to participants said on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of talks.

"The main (United Iraqi) Alliance forces and the al-Sadr movement have agreed to solve the problems and overcome the obstacles that made al-Sadr boycott the political process. So within two days, the al-Sadr movement will return to the government and parliament," said Abdul Karim al-Anizi, a prominent Shiite lawmaker from the Dawa faction.

Two figures in al-Sadr's movement, an aide to the cleric and a member of Iraq's parliament, also said the cleric had agreed to allow his followers to rejoin the government.

"We will rejoin the government and the parliament very soon," the parliament member said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of ongoing meetings. "We got some guarantees during our meeting today," he added.

On Thursday, al-Sadr's loyalists met with members of the Shiite bloc, and laid out their demands for returning to the government, the official said.

"Our demands are to hand over the security file and not allow any regional interference in Iraqi affairs," he said. The Sadrists planned to issue a statement on Saturday, he added.

© 2006 The Associated Press