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Anti-American bloc seeks new Iraq elections

Sadrist group wants ouster of prime minister

BAGHDAD - A powerful political bloc led by the anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called yesterday to dissolve the Iraqi Parliament and to hold early elections, a potentially fatal blow to a power-sharing government that has teetered on collapse since US troops withdrew a little more than a week ago.

In a statement posted on its website, the Sadrists said scrapping the current government was the only way to steer Iraq out of a deepening political crisis that has put Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, at odds with leaders representing the country’s Sunni minority.

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The statement constitutes the first challenge to Maliki from within his Shi’ite coalition, a sign that even if his government survives, he has been weakened.

“We have a lot of problems,’’ said Baha al-Araji, a leading lawmaker with the bloc. “The Americans, when they came to Iraq, they gave power to some blocs and some leaders. And they had power.’’

He added: “We need new elections.’’

The move by the Sadrists is not enough to quickly bring down the government but does represent the first crack in the ranks of the country’s Shi’ite politicians, who have largely supported Maliki’s government as it has accused Sunni leaders of conspiring with terrorists.

It was unclear whether their gambit would go anywhere.

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The calls for a new election won support from a leading member of the predominately Sunni Iraqiya coalition, one of the prime minister’s main antagonists.

But members of other powerful Shi’ite groups quickly dismissed the calls for a new vote as hollow gamesmanship.

“This is ridiculous,’’ said Hassoun al-Fatlawi, a member of the Shi’ite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. “The problems we have can be solved, but not this way. Let them sit down together if they really want to solve it.’’

Disbanding Parliament requires either a majority vote of lawmakers or a one-third vote plus the consent of the country’s president and prime minister.

Even if the Sadrist proposal won over a majority of Iraqi lawmakers, the group said, it would take at least six months to plan another round of elections.

The Sadrist movement provided crucial support to help Maliki seal a second term after last year’s indecisive elections.

Maliki has been locked in a battle with the country’s top Sunni political figure, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, after the government issued an arrest warrant on allegations that his bodyguards ran hit squads targeting government officials.

The prime minister has threatened to form a government without Hashemi’s Sunni-backed political party, Iraqiya, which is boycotting Parliament

The Sadrists’ calls for new elections came as violence continued to roil Baghdad. Around 7:30 a.m. yesterday, a car packed with explosives went off at a checkpoint in front of the Ministry of Interior, killing five, including two officers.

Two improvised explosive devices were detonated Sunday night in the predominately Sunni area of Abu Ghraib, which is policed mainly by Shi’ite security officers. Four officers were killed in that attack and four others were wounded, officials said.

No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but they were similar to others conducted by Al Qaeda in Iraq, the insurgent group accused of trying to plunge the country back into a sectarian conflict by pitting Sunnis and Shi’ites against one another.

Amid the political turmoil and violence, Iraq appeared to be moving closer to resolving a standoff between the government and 3,400 Iranian dissidents living at a camp in eastern Iraq.

Under the deal announced late Sunday night by the UN office in Baghdad, the members of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran would leave Camp Ashraf, in Diyala province in eastern Iraq, and move to a former US military base near Baghdad’s international airport.

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