Sunday, December 10, 2006
"NAJAF, Iraq - Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr sharply criticized Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government on Sunday and once again demanded that all foreign troops leave the country.
Al-Sadr's criticism comes at a time when relations between his Sadrist movement and al-Maliki's coalition government he supports are at a low ebb, with the prime minister coming under mounting pressure to end his alliance with the radical Shiite cleric.
Thirty lawmakers and five Cabinet ministers loyal to al-Sadr are boycotting the government and parliament to protest al-Maliki's recent summit with President Bush in neighboring Jordan. They have said they will not lift their boycott until a timetable is announced for the withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition troops from Iraq.
Al-Maliki, himself a Shiite, criticized the Sadrists for their action, saying it is disloyal to the governing coalition.
Al-Sadr, in a statement issued Sunday in the Shiite holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad, said al-Maliki's government has no right to go it alone. Nor should it have sought the U.N. Security Council's recent renewal of the mandate of the multinational forces in Iraq. Such a move should have been taken by "the people," a reference to the 275-seat parliament, the cleric said."