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Sadrists Downplay Worries Over Their Role In New Iraqi Government

An Iraqi man hangs a poster in support of the Sadrist movement with a picture of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

An Iraqi man hangs a poster in support of the Sadrist movement with a picture of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

BAGHDAD -- A top U.S. commander says Washington has an obvious interest in seeing a representative government formed in Iraq soon without external interference, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

General Ralph Baker, deputy commander of U.S. forces in central Iraq, told RFI on October 20 that "the American government...wants to see an Iraqi government that represents the nature of the votes that were cast by its citizens in March -- an inclusive, representative government."

Following the anti-American Sadrist movement's recent endorsement of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for a second term, concerns have been raised that the price for the support might have been a pledge to offer the Sadrists Iraq's power ministries, including the Interior and Defense ministries.

Baker said "it is not clear to us with the Sadrists whether they are a political movement or an armed militia which carries out political objectives with violent means."

He added that a "government cannot be formed by groups or parties that are not going to support the Iraqi Constitution and work within the democratic process."

Amir al-Kinani, a spokesman for the Sadrist movement, told RFI that the concern expressed over the Sadrists assuming key positions "are groundless, as the Sadrist movement is engaged in the political process and is a member of the National Alliance" with al-Maliki's State of Law (SoL) and other major parties.

Al-Kinani said the Sadrists' share of the national vote in the March elections "will consequently be reflected in government portfolios, whether the Interior Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, or the Transport Ministry. All ministries are important, not just the Interior and Defense ministries."

Al-Kinani added that the concerns voiced over the Sadrists' role in the new government "are excuses promoted by the United States to exclude the Sadrists on account of their opposition to the occupation. This is expected of the American side."

He said "the Americans claim they are leaving, so I see no reason for their concern. Whether we hold the Interior or Defense ministry, this is the Iraqis' business."

Leading Al-Iraqiyah bloc member Jamal al-Battick told RFI that "if the Al-Mahdi Army -- JAM (the Sadrist movement's militia) takes control of such sensitive ministries as interior and defense, this will certainly be a cause for concern. But it is premature to speak about a definitive form of government as no bloc has been able to enlist enough allies to form a government."

Saad Muttalibi, a cabinet adviser and leading member of the SoL-Sadrists' bloc, told RFI on October 20 that "no one knows what the new government will look like, and any speculation is irrelevant. However, the Sadrist movement is an Iraqi group that has 41 seats in the elected parliament. Moreover, they are committed to a peaceful political process."