Sadr group to boycott Iraq government

Published: Sunday April 15, 2007

The political bloc of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Sunday said it is quitting the Iraqi government, as a wave of bombings left another 43 people dead in Baghdad.

"We will announce our withdrawal from the government tomorrow," Saleh Hassan Issa al-Igaili, a lawmaker from the Sadr group, told AFP.

He said the move was to press the group's demand for a timetabled exit of US-led foreign troops. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his ally US President George W. Bush have steadfastly refused to set a time-line for the withdrawal.

The Sadr group has six cabinet ministers in Maliki's embattled government and 32 lawmakers in the 275-member Iraqi parliament.

Maliki last week during a trip of Tokyo rejected demands by the US Congress for a timetable to pull out American troops, saying any withdrawal should be based on the situation on the ground.

His remarks angered the Sadr group, which on Wednesday gave its first indication it was preparing to walk out of government.

Igaili Sunday clarified that the withdrawal, which will be formally announced Monday, was only from the cabinet and that the political bloc will continue to participate in the assembly.

Sadr, a known anti-American cleric, has strongly opposed the US presence in his country since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The boycott will not trigger a collapse of Maliki's government but is expected to increase pressure on the premier at a time when he is busy overseeing a security crackdown in Baghdad to quell raging sectarian bloodshed.

The Sadr group boycotted the Iraqi government for two months from November 29 until late January in protest at a meeting between the beleaguered Maliki and US President George W. Bush in Jordan.

The US military which fought two bloody rebellions launched by Sadr against its forces in 2004 accuses his milita of being involved in sectarian killings of Sunni Arabs.

The Baghdad security crackdown largely aims to rein in his militia which has melted away since the launch of the plan in February.

But while militia-based killings have been reduced in Baghdad, insurgent bombings are rampant and on Sunday a spate of devastating blasts killed 43 people in Shiite shopping areas.

Eighteen people died when a booby-trapped car blew up outside a restaurant and a second ripped through a market in the southern Al-Shurta al-Arabaa suburb of Iraq's capital, a medic said.

As the skeleton of burnt wreckage still smouldered, a bus rigged with bombs exploded in a downtown shopping district in Karrada, killing at least 11 people and wounding 18, defence and security sources said.

In the northern and predominantly Shiite district of Al-Utaifiyah, a suicide bomber boarded a minibus and blew himself up, killing six people and wounding 10, said another security official on condition of anonymity.

Soon after nightfall, another two roadside bombs exploded within minutes of each other in Karrada, killing eight people and wounding 23, a security official said.

Two British helicopters also crashed in Iraq on Sunday near Taji north of Baghdad, killing two Britons and seriously wounding a third, although officials said the incident appeared to have been a mid-air accident rather than the result of hostile fire.

British Defence Minister Des Browne said there were "six casualties as a result of this incident."

Two of them were killed and four others wounded, of which two have been discharged and two remained serious, he added.

US Republican senator Chuck Hagel meanwhile said the support by the Americans and its allies for Iraq was "not open ended."

Hagel, on his fifth trip to Baghdad said: "It never was intended to be an open-ended commitment."

Hagel has supported Congress decision to tie new funds for Iraq with a timetabled withdrawal of troops by 2008.

US Vice President Dick Cheney, however, accused Democrats pushing for a US troop withdrawal of being "irresponsible."

In an interview on US television, Cheney said he believed US forces in Iraq were making progress and it was vital to support the establishment of a democratic government that could "defend itself."

"I do believe we can win in Iraq. I think it is a worthy cause. I think it's absolutely essential that we prevail," Cheney told CBS's "Face the Nation."

Meanwhile, three more US troops have been killed in Iraq, the military reported Sunday, taking its losses to 42 in April alone.