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Iraq Transition

New Iraqi political alliance hits snag

Story Highlights

• Shiite parliament member: Sunni extremists, Baathists are problem, not Sadrists
• Shiite leadership says it does not want al-Sadr excluded
• Boycott of parliament by al-Sadr followers still in place
By Sam Dagher
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The creation of a moderate political alliance in Iraq appeared to have made no progress Friday and was further complicated by the Shiite leadership claims that radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr must not be excluded.

"President Bush is being misled," senior Shiite parliament member Ali al-Adeeb said in response to Bush's statement Wednesday that an emerging "moderate coalition" would marginalize those who "use violence to achieve political objectives."

Bush's reference to a violent group was aimed at al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, which the Pentagon on Monday warned exceeded al Qaeda in Iraq as the greatest threat to security in Baghdad.

"The political process in Iraq is not being threatened by Sadrists, but by Takfiris (Sunni extremists) and former regime elements," al-Adeeb said.

Reports of an alliance that would include the main Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni parties began circulating last week.

Al-Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa party, said efforts were under way to persuade al-Sadr and his loyalists to end a three-week boycott of the Shiite-led 275-member government. Six Sadrist ministers and 30 parliament members suspended their participation to protest al-Maliki's meeting with Bush in Amman, Jordan, last month.

The boycott was "mere political posturing" by Sadrists, said al-Adeeb. Although the movement had its extremists, al-Adeeb said, "it's easier to turn the Sadr hard-liners around because the movement, unlike the Takfiris and Baathists, believes in the political process."

No one in the Shiite leadership, including Abdul Aziz Hakim, the leader of the United Iraqi Alliance parliamentary bloc, believes any new alliance should exclude the Sadrists, al-Adeeb added.

U.S. Embassy officials in Baghdad were not immediately available for comment.

A spokesman for al-Sadr meanwhile dismissed as rumors reports on Thursday that the movement had ended its boycott.

"Sayed Muqtada did not say that, and our conditions to return to the government remain the same," Sheikh Walid al-Zameli said.

Al-Sadr's movement had issued a list of eight conditions on December 16 to end its boycott. They included the passage of legislation that would detail a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition troops as well as the closure of the U.S. and British embassies in Iraq.

Al-Zameli also denied that al-Sadr had met on Thursday with an envoy from United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shiite parliamentary bloc that includes al-Maliki's party.

In a separate interview, a Sadrist member of parliament confirmed to CNN that the boycott remained in place and dismissed the formation of a moderate political alliance.

"We are against any new alliances separate from those that had been forged in parliament and which were the result of the last elections and a reflection of the will of the people," Nassar al-Rubaei said.

The main problems now were "the lack of true sovereignty and the government's inability to control the security situation," al-Rubaei said.

"The Mehdi Army (al-Sadr's militia) is carrying arms to protect our people because government forces can't do the job."

A United Iraqi Alliance spokesman, parliament member Abbas al-Bayati, said the Shiite coalition had sent a parliament member, Faleh al-Fayad, to Najaf on Thursday to meet with the religious leadership including the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and al-Sadr. The meeting was said to pave the way for a UIA delegation that would go down to the shrine city as early as Sunday or Monday.

The delegation's goal was to persuade al-Sadr to return to the government and win the religious leadership's support for "the new alliance of moderates."

Such an alliance would be "meaningless" unless it included "concrete steps that would isolate extremists in both Shiite and Sunni camps and give Sunnis a true say in government decision-making," Sunni parliament member Dhafer al-Ani said.

A new alliance must be coupled with "a brave government decision to disband militias like the Mehdi Army," said al-Ani, accusing government institutions of giving cover to the militias.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi's Iraqi Islamic Party, the main party in the Sunni bloc Iraq Accord Front, is said to be a main component of this so-called alliance of moderates.

It praised "the national resistance" and gave tacit approval for the new alliance, provided "there are guarantees," according to a statement Thursday.

No details were given on what these demands might be, and party officials were not immediately reachable for comment.

CNN's Yousif Bassil contributed to this report

Mourners carry posters of Muqtada al-Sadr at a Baghdad funeral Monday.




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