Al-Sadr loyalists boycott parliament, Cabinet over Amman summit

Wednesday, November 29th 2006, 9:50 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Six Cabinet ministers and 30 legislators loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr decided Wednesday to boycott Parliament and the government to protest the Iraqi prime minister's summit with President Bush.

Within hours of the announcement, the White House said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's first meeting with Bush in their key two-day summit in Jordan was canceled. Senior Iraqi lawmaker Redha Jawad Taqi said the meeting was canceled at the request of the Iraqis after al-Maliki learned that the Jordanian monarch planned to broaden the discussion to include the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Two senior officials traveling with al-Maliki, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said the prime minister had been reluctant to travel to Jordan in the first place and decided, once in Amman, that he did not want ``a third party'' involved in talks about subjects specific to the U.S.-Iraqi relationship.

White House counselor Dan Bartlett denied it was a snub by al-Maliki or related to the leak of a White House memo questioning the Iraqi leader's capacity for controlling violence in Iraq. Bartlett said the three-way meeting had always been planned as ``more of a social meeting'' and that Bush and al-Maliki would have a ``robust'' meeting on their own Thursday.

The Sadrists had threatened to quit the government and parliament if al-Maliki went ahead with the Amman summit. But by downgrading their protest to a suspension of membership, they left open a return to their jobs.

One of the 30 lawmakers, Falih Hassan, called Bush ``a criminal who killed a lot of Iraqis'' and said the American president has no business meddling in Iraq's affairs.

The move came as the country endured another day of scattered violence, with a total of 95 people killed or found dead across Iraq.

In addition, the U.S. military announced the deaths of two more American soldiers.

Heavy fighting continued in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, where clashes between coalition forces and Sunni Arab insurgents have killed scores of militants and civilians in the past few days.

In the day's deadliest violence, U.S. forces backed by aircraft killed eight al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents during a raid near Baqouba that also left two Iraqi women dead, the U.S. military said. The eight were killed in the aerial bombing.

While searching the area, U.S. forces also found the bodies of two females who had died during the fight. No coalition casualties were reported.

The U.S. raid in Baqouba was the second in as many days to kill Iraqi females.

On Tuesday, U.S. soldiers fought with suspected insurgents in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, killing six Iraqis: one man and five girls, aged seven months, 12, 14, 15 and 17, according to the U.S. command.

Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Sadrist lawmakers criticized al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government for its decision to request from the United Nations a one-year extension of the stay in Iraq of the U.S.-led multinational force numbering around 160,000. The request was granted on Tuesday.

The Sadr politicians argued that the multinational force played a ``suspicious'' role in Iraq and accused al-Maliki of ignoring the views of parliament's 275 lawmakers when it sought a renewal of its deployment.

The statement also mirrored the animosity felt by the movement toward the United States and Bush, using a language that harked back to the days in 2004 when the Mahdi Army fought U.S. troops in two major revolts in Baghdad and much of central and southern Iraq.

``This visit hijacked the will of the people during days when the sons of Iraq write their destiny with blood and not ink,'' said the statement, which referred to Bush as ``cursed,'' the ``world's biggest evil'' and a ``criminal.''