'US, Britain, Israel are axis of evil'

Radical Muslim cleric accuses Samarra bombers of 'collusion' with US, Israel.

muqtada al-sader 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
muqtada al-sader 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Iraqi radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia, the Mahdi Army, has been accused by Sunni Muslims of, among other things, involvement in much of the sectarian violence after the Shi'ite shrine bombing February 22 in Samarra, said in a television interview Friday night that the United States, Britain and Israel were a "triad of evil," an obvious play on words Bush used in his 2002 State of the Union address to describe Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil." He also said the Samarra bombers worked in "collusion with" the United States and Israel. Once the Iraqi parliament sits, which the constitution says should have happened this Sunday - a month after the December 15 election results were certified - it has 60 days to elect a new president, approve Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister and sign off on his Cabinet. The seven Shi'ite blocs in parliament control the largest number of seats, which entitles them to name the candidate for prime minister. Al-Jaafari, with the backing of al-Sadr, squeaked to nomination by one vote over Abdul-Mahdi. Hakim and Abdul-Mahdi have privately made known their distaste of al-Jaafari. But they have stood firm so far with the larger Shi'ite interests because of calls for unity from the sect's top spiritual leader in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. It will be numerically impossible, without defections from the Shi'ite ranks, for Talabani and his Kurdish and sectarian allies - a coalition of convenience - to block al-Jaafari from becoming prime minister in a new government. But by avoiding a split, the Shi'ites might be setting up an even more problematic division. Some among the Talabani coalition have threatened they would boycott an al-Jaafari government, spoiling US hopes for a unity government. Iraq's president has issued a decree calling the new parliament into session March 19 for the first time since it was elected nearly three months ago, saying he feared "catastrophe" and "civil war" if politicians could not put aside their differences. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Friday that he hoped leaders of all Iraqi factions would soon join him some place outside Baghdad to talk round the clock to resolve political feuds - most visibly over the proposed second-term candidacy of, a Shi'ite. US Embassy spokesman Elizabeth Colton said Khalilzad "has begun discussing the ideas with Iraqi political leaders, but there is nothing definite yet and no plans yet for where or when, should it be decided." His call for a meeting of politicians outside the capital was first reported Friday by Time magazine. Kamal al-Saidi, a Shi'ite legislator in al-Jaafari's Dawa Party, said there was no objection from the bloc to going to Irbil, but "we want to know the reason behind this invitation." He said al-Jaafari's capitulation now to demands that he step aside "means committing suicide" and more forced concessions later.