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US warns of aid cuts if Sadr bloc takes certain Iraqi ministries

A senior US embassy official made the clearest public statements yet of US determination to try to limit the hardline Sadr movement's influence if it continues to rebuff American overtures.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent / December 6, 2010

Followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, seen in the poster at center, crowd a street as they attend open air Friday prayers in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 3.

Karim Kadim/AP

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Baghdad

The US is warning that it could cut substantial funding to Iraq’s Health, Education, and Transport ministries if the anti-American Sadr bloc is given those cabinet posts in a new government being formed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

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The comments by a senior US embassy official were the clearest public statements yet of US determination to try to limit the influence of the Sadr movement if it continues to rebuff American overtures. The hardline Shiite bloc won the single biggest number of seats in the Iraqi parliament in March 7 elections but refuses to meet with American officials.

“We accept and understand there are going to be Sadrist ministers, but some of the ministries that have been mentioned in the press as potentially going to the Sadrists happen to be ministries that we look at very closely,” said the embassy official in an interview with the Monitor on Saturday. “We hope that if Sadrists are able to head those ministries, they will be able to take a more pragmatic approach than they have in the past, because it would be a terrible shame for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people if we were no longer able to run the very substantial education programs we’re running in Iraq.”

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, cited the education, health, and transport ministries as those which could become impossible to support if the Sadrists continued to oppose dealing with the US. He declined to specify which Iraqi ministries the US would have no problem in seeing the Sadr bloc running.

The Sadrists are loyal to hardline Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr. After a protracted political crisis in which both Prime Minister Maliki and one-time prime minister Iyad Allawi claimed they had won, the Sadrists threw their support behind Maliki, who now has until the end of the month to choose a cabinet.

Maliki is required to give the coveted Defense and Interior ministries to politicians who are at least nominally independent. But the Sadrists, who draw much of their popular support from the poor and disaffected, are expected to be given some of the key service ministries.

The militia loyal to Sadr fought US soldiers in the streets in 2004 before the enigmatic young cleric announced a cease-fire and joined the political process. He is continuing his religious studies in Iran, and aides say he will not return until US troops are no longer in Iraq.

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