Six ministers tied to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr left the Iraqi Cabinet Monday, protesting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Two regional experts discuss the resignations and the impact on Iraqi politics.
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A shakeup in the Iraqi government. We start with some background narrated by NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels.
SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent:
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement dealt Iraq's fledgling government another blow today, when six cabinet ministers resigned, including the minister of health.
NASSAR AL-RUBAIE, Leader, Al-Sadr Parliamentary Bloc (through translator):
We deem it necessary to issue an order to the Sadr bloc ministers to withdraw immediately from the Iraqi government.
The head of al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc spoke to reporters in Baghdad this morning. The main reason behind the move: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal.
NASSAR AL-RUBAIE (through translator):
We demand a timetable for the withdrawal of occupation forces. This is an essential topic for us. The government should have a stance towards this matter.
But the 30 members of parliament who are loyal to al-Sadr have not offered up their resignations. The bloc makes up about a quarter of that body.
Al-Sadr himself has not been seen since the U.S.-led security plan was put in place in February. In a written statement, he said he hoped new ministers would be free of sectarian agendas. It read, "I ask God to bestow upon the people an independent, devoted government to be like a candle in the night, away from occupation."
Prime Minister al-Maliki has repeatedly echoed the Bush administration's refusal to set timetables.
NOURI AL-MALIKI, Prime Minister, Iraq (through translator):
We see no need for a withdrawal timetable because we are working as fast as we can. We feel what will govern the departure of international forces are the achievements and victories we manage to obtain on the ground, not a timetable.
It was al-Sadr's support that originally secured al-Maliki's election to prime minister a year ago, but the alliance has been a shaky one. In November, al-Sadr's bloc began a two-month boycott of the government, after al-Maliki went ahead with meetings with President George Bush.
Since then, al-Sadr has staged several protests. Last Monday, his supporters rallied tens of thousands to the streets of Najaf, on the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, to demand the expulsion of U.S. troops.
In Washington, the Bush administration said that al-Sadr's withdrawal from the government did not mean al-Maliki has lost his majority in parliament.