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Rift between Sadr bloc and Iraqi PM widens

By Staff
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Google Oneindia News

BAGHDAD, July 8 (Reuters) A powerful Shi'ite bloc lashed out at Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki today after he accused it of failing to take a clear stance on violence, signalling a deepening rift between Maliki and a former backer.

Followers from the movement of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose support propelled Maliki into the prime minister's office last year, also held street protests in Baghdad in the wake of the Iraqi leader's comments yesterday.

''This government is at the edge of an abyss. It will collapse,'' said Ahmed al-Shaibany, a prominent cleric and member of Sadr's inner circle of advisers.

''Maliki ... wants to send a message to the (US) occupiers: 'I can implement your requests' ... We tell you that you are committing a mistake,'' he said in a statement.

Another top Sadr aide made similar comments in a statement.

Maliki, himself a Shi'ite, yesterday demanded the Sadr bloc take a clear stance against rogue elements within the movement's Mehdi Army militia that Washington blames for killing US troops.

Maliki's comments came in the wake of fighting between the Mehdi Army and Iraqi security forces that has killed dozens of people in recent weeks in the relatively calm southern cities of Nassiriya, Diwaniya and Samawa.

The Sadr bloc pulled its six ministers out of Maliki's cabinet in April when the prime minister refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

It has also boycotted parliament since an attack on a revered Shi'ite mosque last month in the city of Samarra and most recently rejected a landmark draft oil law.

The youthful Sadr has huge appeal among Iraq's Shi'ite masses but since the start of a US-backed security crackdown in February he has largely disappeared from public view.

Earlier this year, US officials said Sadr was hiding in Iran, although his aides say he never left Iraq. Analysts have speculated he had returned to reassert his authority over his militia, which the US military says has begun fragmenting into splinter groups.

Sadr led two uprisings against US forces in 2004.

REUTERS SBC BST2150

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