News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqSadrists to back candidates outside bloc

Sadrists to back candidates outside bloc

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ImageAP: Anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's followers won't field candidates under their movement's banner in upcoming provincial elections but will back sympathetic independents and candidates from other party lists, a spokesman said Sunday.

The Associated Press

By BUSHRA JUHI

ImageBAGHDAD (AP) — Anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's followers won't field candidates under their movement's banner in upcoming provincial elections but will back sympathetic independents and candidates from other party lists, a spokesman said Sunday.

The decision is part of a bid by the populist cleric to avoid a government campaign against the Sadrist brand, including efforts to prevent parties that operate militias from fielding candidates. Al-Sadr runs the biggest Shiite militia — the Mahdi Army.

"We are not boycotting the provincial elections," said Sheik Salah al-Obeidi, a senior al-Sadr aide in the holy city of Najaf. "We will participate but not in a clear list for Sadrists. We will support independent figures and people whom we find suitable."

Al-Obeidi also said any Sadrists who want to run in the elections would join other lists and represent the movement on an individual basis.

The move is part of a shift in strategy by al-Sadr since a spring crackdown on his followers in Baghdad and southern Iraq.

On Friday, the cleric announced that he was dividing his militia into a secret fighting group targeting U.S.-led forces while others would not carry arms but work otherwise to promote the movement's ideals.

The elections — expected to begin in October — will choose governing councils in Iraq's 18 provinces and are seen as a key step in repairing the country's sectarian rifts.

The Sadrists, along with most Sunnis, boycotted the last provincial balloting in January 2005, enabling mainstream Shiites and Kurds to win a disproportionate share of power.

Sadrists had been complaining that some of their locally prominent members were reluctant to announce their candidacies for fear of arrest or harassment.

Parliament has yet to pass a law establishing rules for the vote, raising the possibility that it may be delayed.

Among the controversial measures being debated are a government call to ban parties linked to militias, such as al-Sadr's, from fielding candidates as well as the way candidates will be listed on the ballots.

U.S. and Iraqi troops, meanwhile, have cracked down on Shiite militia fighters in Baghdad's Sadr City district and the southern city of Basra.

Iraqi soldiers also have been flowing into the southern city of Amarah ahead of another planned operation in Amarah, a Sadrist stronghold near the border with Iran.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office announced a Wednesday deadline for people to turn in heavy and medium range weapons to authorities in Maysan province, of which Amarah is the capital, in return for an unspecified monetary reward.

A statement called it the "last chance for the outlaws to reconsider their stance and to participate in the security process and reconstruction of the province."

U.S. and Iraqi authorities believe many key Mahdi Army commanders fled to Amarah and Iran after cease-fires in Baghdad and Basra brought an end to fighting between the militias and government forces.

In Amarah, Iraqi security forces were deployed in large numbers on the streets and new checkpoints were erected in the city of some 450,000 people, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, local police said.

The preparations for the Amarah operation were similar to those that led up to the crackdown that began in late March in Basra and Sadr City.

Sporadic violence continued elsewhere in Iraq on Sunday, with a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing a soldier and a civilian walking near the site, said Lt. Col. Khalil al-Zubaie, an army spokesman in the area. Three other soldiers were wounded, he said.

Elsewhere in northern Iraq, gunmen killed a college professor and wounded two of his sons in a drive-by shooting in Mosul, according to a police officer who read the report at the provincial headquarters.

The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said Dr. Waleed Saadallah al-Mullah was a science professor at Mosul University.

Gunmen also broke into the home of a displaced Sunni family in Baghdad's mainly Sunni Adil district, killing a retired army officer, his wife and their 19-year-old daughter and wounding their 10-year-old son, police and hospital officials said.

The officials, who declined to be identified because they weren't authorized to release the information, said the family had fled sectarian violence in the mainly Shiite district of Amin last year and the father had been working as a car dealer. They said the motive for the killings was unknown.

Associated Press writer Hamid Ahmed contributed to this report.

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