Friday, November 24, 2006

Shiite bloc threatens walkout if Iraq PM meets Bush

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is threatening to withdraw support from Iraq's government if Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki meets President Bush next week, an al-Sadr representative said Friday. Such a move could jeopardize the stability of the administration of al-Maliki who has relied on the support of both the United States and his fellow Shiites.

The White House said talks between Bush and al-Maliki in Jordan next week would go ahead as planned. Al-Maliki's office has not responded to the threat by Salih al-Akeili, a member of the al-Sadr bloc in Iraq's parliament, that aired on Iraqi TV. The move came as attacks on Sunni mosques were reported in apparent retaliation for a bloodbath in a Shiite area on Thursday.

Coordinated attacks killed more than 200 people in Baghdad's Sadr City slum in what is considered the worst attack of the Iraq war. More than 250 also were wounded, an Iraqi Health Ministry official said Friday after an updated count from local hospitals. It is widely assumed that Sunni militants were responsible for the attacks, which targeted the bastion of support for al-Sadr. U.S. commanders believe al-Sadr's militia, the Mehdi Army, has been involved in revenge attacks against Sunnis, although al-Sadr has denounced such attacks.

Al-Sadr's representative al-Akeili blamed U.S.-led forces for fostering conditions that led to the massacre Thursday in Baghdad's Sadr City. "We announce that if the security situation and the basic services do not improve, and if the prime minister goes ahead and meets with the criminal Bush in Amman, then we will suspend our memberships with the Iraqi parliament and the government," he said. Al-Akeili said his bloc -- which occupies 30 seats in the 275-member parliament -- is demanding an end to the occupation and a withdrawal from Iraq, with a timetable for such a departure. He also uttered a common chant heard on the streets of Baghdad: "No, no to America. Yes, yes to Islam." ...

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