Al-Sadr-Linked Legislators End Boycott of Iraqi Parliament

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc announced Sunday that it is lifting its nearly two-month political boycott after reaching a compromise over its demands for a timetable for Iraqi forces to take over security and the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The decision came as the movement faces increased pressure to clamp down on militia violence with a series of U.S.-Iraqi raids aimed at its leaders.

"We announce our return to parliament, we will attend today's session, and the ministers will resume their work to serve the people," said Bahaa al-Araji, one of 30 lawmakers loyal to al-Sadr.

He spoke during a news conference attended by Sunni parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.

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Al-Sadr also has six loyalist ministers in the 38-member Cabinet.

The bloc announced on Nov. 29 that it was suspending its participation in the parliament and government to protest a summit between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. President George W. Bush at which the two were expected to discuss increasing American troops levels to stop the spiraling violence in Baghdad.

The Sadrists lifted the suspension after parliament agreed to form a committee to study and discuss their demands, which include setting a timetable for Iraqi forces to take over security and the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

"We formed a committee from the parliamentary blocs and this committee has studied the demands," al-Masshadani said. "We bless the return of the Sadrist bloc."

The compromise appeared to be a way for both sides to save face while allowing al-Sadr's bloc, whose support is crucial to Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to regain legislative influence ahead of the expected crackdown.

Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie also warned the Sadrist legislators last week that they must return to work soon or risk losing their positions, although he set no deadline.