Influential Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr would dissolve his Mehdi Army militia if the United States starts withdrawing troops according to a set timetable, a spokesman said.
The statement comes at a crucial point in talks between Baghdad and Washington over a new security pact that will provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to operate in Iraq when a United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year.
A ceasefire imposed by Sadr on his militia a year ago has been a major factor in a drop in violence in Iraq to four-year lows. Sadr, whose political movement controls 10 percent of seats in parliament, has long demanded U.S. troops leave Iraq.
"We feel there's a serious intention by the American forces for a withdrawal timetable at the very least," Sadr's spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi said before Friday prayers, when the cleric is to launch a new cultural wing of his movement.
"It should not be considered an end to the Mehdi army, but it's a halfway step to dissolving the Mehdi Army. If the U.S. began to implement a withdrawal timetable we shall complete the path to dissolution," Ubaidi said.
U.S. President Bush has refused to set a firm timetable for withdrawing 144,000 American troops from Iraq, but spoke last month of a general "time horizon" for a pullout.
Iraqi negotiators have proposed a timetable that would see U.S. combat troops leave the country by Oct. 2010, although Washington has not yet agreed to it, a senior Iraqi official said on Friday.
If agreed, the timetable would mean the Bush administration effectively adopting a schedule very close to that proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Iraqi government officials say an agreement is close on a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal. But US says it is too soon to say when it can pull out its forces, which have been in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
The issue is politically sensitive in the United States ahead of the presidential election in November. Obama has pledged to withdraw all combat troops by mid-2010, while his Republican opponent John McCain refuses to set a date.
The Iraqi proposal would see U.S. forces withdraw from the streets of Iraqi cities by the middle of next year and combat troops return home by October 2010. Some American support units could stay on for another few years, the senior official said.
Sadr's Mehdi Army launched two uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004. The cleric backed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's rise to power in 2006 but split with him last year over the troop timetable issue.
Sadr's spokesman said while the "resistance" would not end until U.S. troops left Iraq, the cleric was ready to take positive steps if Washington moved in the right direction.
"If we find (this does not happen) and the U.S. forces change their stance over the timetable, we can change direction also," he said. "This will not mean ending the ceasefire, it will depend on what's going on on the ground."
Last Mod: 08 Ağustos 2008, 15:19