Iraqi PM mulls candidates after Sadr bloc pulls out | world | Hindustan Times
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Iraqi PM mulls candidates after Sadr bloc pulls out

Six ministers, loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, have quit the Govt.

world Updated: Apr 18, 2007 15:21 IST

Iraq's cabinet debated on Tuesday who would replace six ministers loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr after they quit a day earlier, and officials said non-sectarian technocrats would likely be chosen.

In the biggest cabinet shakeup since Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki took office a year ago, the ministers pulled out of the government in protest at his refusal to set a timetable for a US troop withdrawal, a demand of the anti-American cleric.

The Sadrists, who form the single biggest parliamentary bloc in the ruling Shi'ite Alliance, called on Maliki to appoint non-partisan independents, a move the prime minister welcomed.

An aide to the prime minister said Maliki would work swiftly to fill the posts, which include the transport and health ministries, and present his nominees to parliament within days.

Analysts are divided on the implications of Sadr's pullout but agree it is unlikely to significantly weaken the Shi'ite-led government.

The biggest concern is whether Sadr, by distancing himself from the government, may feel less constrained to rein in his feared Mehdi Army militia.

Maliki's government may also feel under more pressure to address the timetable issue, a popular demand of many Iraqis four years after the US-led invasion in March 2003. Tens of thousands rallied last week to protest at the US presence.

Maliki reiterated on Monday that US troops would leave Iraq only when Iraqi forces could take over security. His new, US-trained army is still heavily dependent on US firepower and logistical support

A regular cabinet meeting was being held on Tuesday and senior Shi'ite lawmaker Haider al-Ibadi said replacements would inevitably be discussed.

"The prime minister wishes to choose his ministers very quickly and we expect him to present qualified technocrats by next week," said Ibadi, who is also close to Maliki.

Another Shi'ite lawmaker from Maliki's Dawa party confirmed candidates' names were under discussion. "There will not be choices based on sectarian affiliations," said Ali al-Adeeb.

Iraqis have long complained that the Shi'ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish blocs that make up the shaky government of national unity have slowed down decision-making and turned ministries into personal fiefdoms of sectarian political parties.

Maliki was often accused of failing to act against Sadr's Mehdi Army militia, which Washington says is the biggest threat to peace in Iraq, because he owed his post to the cleric.

The Mehdi Army has largely kept a low profile during a major US-Iraqi crackdown in the capital, but there are fears it may take to the streets again, to retaliate against a spate of bombings blamed on Sunni Islamist Al-Qaeda.

Some analysts contend Sadr was losing support within his movement because of his tacit support for the crackdown, which he had hoped would speed up a US troop withdrawal, and that was why he decided to pull out.