At the same time, Iraq’s Cabinet ratcheted up the pressure on anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr by approving draft legislation barring political parties with militias from participating in upcoming provincial elections.
Al-Sadr, who heads the country’s biggest militia, the Mahdi Army, has been under intense pressure from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, also a Shiite, to disband the Mahdi Army or face political isolation.
Al-Sadr’s followers are eager to take part in the local elections because they believe they can take power away from rival Shiite parties in the vast, oil-rich Shiite heartland of southern Iraq.
And in a new move to stem the flow of money to armed groups, the government ordered a crackdown on militiamen controlling state-run and private gas stations, refineries and oil distribution centers.
It is believed that gas stations and distribution centers, especially in eastern Baghdad and some southern provinces, are covertly controlled by Shiite militiamen dominated by the Mahdi Army.