The movement of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will not compete in local elections under its own name but join with other groups and ask its followers to vote for those candidates, Sadr officials said on Sunday.
Salah al-Ubaidi, the chief spokesman for the anti-American cleric, denied reports the group was boycotting the polls, which are scheduled for Oct. 1 and seen as the battleground for a power struggle that could redraw Iraq's political map.
The move by the opposition Sadr bloc could be a way to get around a draft elections law that is expected to ban any group that has a militia from taking part in the polls.
Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has demanded Sadr disband his Mehdi Army.
Sadr has refused, but has urged his followers to observe a truce with Iraqi forces in the wake of crackdowns that targeted the militia in Baghdad and Shi'ite southern Iraq.
Iraqi forces are preparing for another offensive, this time in the southern city of Amara, which is a Sadr stronghold.
Ubaidi said the movement had made the decision because it did not want to "politicise" the polls. He did not elaborate.
"We will not take part in the coming elections under the name of the Sadr bloc list. We will call our candidates to participate in joint lists and we will call our followers to vote for them," Ubaidi told Reuters.
The movement's candidates could join with the heads of tribes, technocrats, politicians or social figures, he said.
The Sadrists boycotted the last provincial elections in January 2005 and have been expected to make gains at the expense of Shi'ite parties now supporting Maliki, especially in the south where there has been much criticism of the performance of local government.
Luwaa Sumaisem, head of the Sadr bloc's political committee, said the movement would urge its followers to vote for candidates "we believe will serve our policy and the people".
He denied the decision had anything to do with the draft elections law.
While Iraq has set Oct. 1 as the date for the elections, U.S. officials have said there could be delays. The elections law has yet to be passed and electoral officials say they will need months to prepare.
Washington says the elections will foster reconciliation by boosting the participation of minority Sunni Arabs in politics. Sunni Arabs, who also boycotted the January polls, are under- represented in areas where they are numerically dominant.
But many fear conflict in the south, where the Sadrists and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which backs Maliki, are vying for influence in a region home to most of Iraq's oil production.
Last Mod: 15 Haziran 2008, 16:15