PM asks senior Shiite cleric to reconsider ‘retiring from political life’

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Azzaman, February 17, 2014

Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki has urged Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr to reconsider his decision to retire from political life and have no representatives in the government or parliament in the future.

The decision has shocked the government, which now fears his withdrawal will lead to a political vacuum and give its opponents an advantage in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

Sadr has a large bloc in the parliament with scores of representatives who broadly are allied with the government despite their lashing out at its performance.

Maliki praised Sadr and accepted his harsh criticism of his government.

In his statement, Maliki quoted verbatim long paragraphs from Sadr’s letter of resignation in which he lashes at Maliki’s government performance.

“We were shocked yesterday (Sunday) by the decision … of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to withdraw from political action in protest at huge deviations which the political process (by the government) has taken and its negative impact on the life and dignity of Iraqis.

“While we understand the reason and motives (behind the decision) and his (Sadr’s) rejection of the wretched political process and share with him his convictions, orientations and disappointment, but the cleric is no longer his own property but the property of all Iraqis, and a fundamental part of the movement of the Iraqi people,” Maliki said in his statement calling on the cleric not to retire.

Maliki praised Sadr and the role his armed militias called the Mahdi Army played in opposing the U.S. occupation of the country at a time not ignoring the dispute the two have had over a wide-range of issues related to government performance.

The Mahdi Army even clashed with Maliki’s government in 2008, who personally commanded Iraqi army troops in the southern city of Basra in fight against the group.

Mahdi Army’s defeat in Basra prompted the cleric to ask his armed group to lay down arms and disband.

According to Sadr’s statement of resignation, he will shut down all his offices in the country and devote his activities to charity.