Accessibility links

Breaking News

Sadr's Movement to Back Independent Candidates in Iraqi Provincial Elections

A spokesman for Iraq's radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr says his movement will not directly participate in provincial elections scheduled for October 1.

Sadr's spokesman said Sunday that the movement instead will support "technocrats and independent politicians" in the polls.

He said the movement will not directly contest the elections because it does not want to be part of sectarian divisions.

Iraq's 18 provinces will choose governing councils in the elections, which Washington says will help to stabilize the country by giving more power to local leaders.

Unresolved debate over a draft election law could postpone the vote. The law is expected to ban parties with militias from contesting elections.

That would prohibit Sadr's movement from joining the political process. His Mahdi Army is the largest Shi'ite militia in Iraq.

Sadr's movement says the cleric is reorganizing his militia into political and armed wings. One wing is to focus on politics and social services for Iraqis. The underground paramilitary wing, called "special companies," would reserve the right to attack U.S. soldiers.

Iraqi government forces Sunday are preparing for an offensive against Shi'ite militias in Amarah, the capital of the southern province of Maysan.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has given gunmen there until June 18 to surrender their weapons in exchange for cash. Maysan borders Iran and is believed to be a major region for weapons smuggling.

Iraq's Defense Ministry said today that Iraqi forces will take over security operations from the U.S. military in the central province of Qadisiyah next month.

Mainly Shi'ite Qadisiyah would be the 10th province to return to Iraqi control since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.