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Shi'ite cleric pulls out of Iraqi government

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Shi'ite cleric pulls out of Iraqi government

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The Iraqi government will be weaker today after the withdrawal of six ministers, all members of the political movement of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

It robs prime minister al-Maliki’s Shi’ite alliance of one of its key components, and although the government is unlikely to fall, al-Sadr’s men control a quarter of parliament, too.

The walkout has been called because the government has refused to set a timetable for US troop withdrawal, and it may set the scene for further sectarian tension as al-Maliki battles for national unity.

Al-Sadr is a key ally for the prime minister, but for the Americans he is a threat to peace, and a suspected ally of Iran, to where the Americans claim he fled two months ago when they began their security crackdown.

Al-Sadr supporters in their tens of thousands demonstrated last week, out of their black uniforms and unarmed under Iraqi flags, calling for US troops to leave. After leading two armed uprisings against them, al-Sadr’s movement may be turning more to politics.