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IRAQ - Jan 21 - Shi'ite Group Ends Boycott Ahead Of Moves To Curb Militias.

Representatives of Iraq's radical Shi'ite Sadrist movement says they are ending a two-month boycott of the government - a conciliatory gesture by a group that faces a crackdown on its associated militias by US and Iraqi forces. "We are ending our boycott of the ministries and the parliament", Bahaa al-Araji, a senior member of the group, told a news conference. The Sadrists, who control three main ministries, suspended their participation in the cabinet and parliament in protest at a decision by PM Nouri al-Maliki, to meet US president Bush, amid growing American pressure on the government to rein in their Mahdi Army militia. The declaration came as the US military said a 3,200-strong brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division had arrived and would become operational in Baghdad on February 1 as part of a planned "surge" of US deployments aimed primarily at stabilising the capital. It also followed a bloody attack on US forces in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala on Jan 20, in which five US soldiers were killed. While the perpetrators are still unknown and the city is home to several Shi'ite militant movements, the attack demonstrates that neutralising Shi'ite militias is likely to remain a challenge for the Iraqi government, even if the Sadrist political leadership co-operates. The end of the boycott clears the way for deals aimed at reconciling Iraq's Sunnis and Shi'ite. Maliki's government would have been reluctant to negotiate while the Sadrists, whose grass-roots strength among the Shi'ite poor is unmatched, remained outside the government. It also reinforces earlier indications that Muqtada al-Sadr, the movement's leader, is seeking to avoid a confrontation with the US military, even after the arrest of several Mahdi Army leaders blamed for murdering Sunni civilians. The Sadrists are at a crossroads. Their response to government plans to demobilise their militia will determine whether they become what they have long claimed to be - a political and religious movement that supports and is part of the government - or continue to run an armed state-within-a-state within much of the Shi'ite part of the country. But Sadr is thought to be struggling to control his movement, much of which has fractured into smaller cells based around charismatic leaders who engage in freelance attacks against Sunni and the US military. Meanwhile, Hussein Shahristani, Iraq's oil minister, said that a new draft of a law governing the country's petroleum industry would pave the way for "transparent and fair" competition in bids to develop Iraq's oil wealth. The deal would speed negotiations on issues such as the distribution of oil revenues, which could undercut the Sunni Arab insurgency. However, in spite of oil ministry predictions that the law could be presented to the cabinet for approval this week, Kurdish officials say key elements remain un-resolved.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:Jan 27, 2007
Previous Article:IRAN - Jan 21 - Ahmadi-nejad Dismisses Effects Of Un Sanctions On Iran.
Next Article:IRAQ - Jan 22 - Iraq Attacks Kill At Least 88.

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