Sadrists to Back Independent Candidates in Fall ElectionsBy VOA News
15 June 2008

A spokesman for Iraq's anti-U.S. Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr says his movement will not directly take part in key provincial elections scheduled for October.
The Sadrist's chief spokesman Salah al-Obeidi said Sunday that the movement will support "technocrats and independent politicians" but would not field its own candidates. He denied reports the group would boycott polls scheduled for October 1 and seen by many as a critical battleground which could redraw Iraq's political map.
The decision appears to have been taken partly to avoid a draft election law expected to ban parties that operate militias from fielding candidates. Sadr's Mahdi Army is the largest Shi'ite militia in Iraq.
The move follows an announcement read by Sadr aides Friday that the Shi'ite leader is reorganizing his movement by dividing the Mahdi Army into political and armed wings.
The announcement said Sadr wanted the movement's focus to concentrate on politics and provide social services to Iraqis. But a small, armed paramilitary wing would continue to operate as an underground force and reserve the right to attack U.S. forces.
The statement said Sadr's "special company" fighters would need written permission to carry weapons. The decision to divide the Mahdi Army would follow a similar evolution of Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In a separate development, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a statement late Saturday giving gunmen in the southern province of Maysan four days to surrender their weapons ahead of a planned military assault against Shi'ite militias there.
Iraqi security forces beefed up their presence in the provincial capital of Amarah Sunday as they prepared for a new offensive targeting what they refer to as "outlaws."
Helicopters dropped leaflets across the city Saturday urging residents to stay home and not to interfere with the operation. Amarah borders Iran to the south, and is believed to be a major region for weapons smuggling.

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