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Iraq Transition

Al-Sadr orders his bloc's ministers to quit government

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NEW: Al-Sadr follows through on threat to pull ministers
Anti-American cleric trying to press for earlier U.S. troop withdrawal
• Al-Sadr: "PM Nuri al-Maliki did not respect the will of the Iraqi people"
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered six cabinet ministers from his political bloc to leave Iraq's government on Monday, making good on a threat issued last week after the prime minister rejected a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops.

The ministers' withdrawal was confirmed to CNN by Nasser al Rubaie, a spokesman for the bloc.

Al-Sadr's movement controls the ministries of Health, Agriculture, Province Affairs, Transportation, Tourism and Civil Society Organizations. The withdrawal will not affect the bloc's 30 members of parliament, said Saleh al-Ageili, another bloc spokesman.

The move weakens Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government.

Al-Sadr, widely popular in Iraq's Shiite heartland, opposes the U.S. occupation of Iraq and, during the war, his Mehdi Army militia has fought coalition and Iraqi forces. Many opponents of the occupation have demanded a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal and the issue is being heatedly debated in the United States.

The faction is part of the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance, the political bloc that holds sway in Iraq. The al-Sadr movement was instrumental in getting al-Maliki the prime minister's position last year.

The powerful political movement boycotted Iraq's government for two months after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met with President Bush in November.

The movement rejoined the government in January after Iraqi parliament members said they would consider the group's demands, which include a timetable for U.S.-led coalition troop withdrawal and a United Nations mandate assuring that the troop deployment would not be extended.

Speaking last week in Japan, al-Maliki said "achievements and victories" on the ground -- not timetables -- are the proper barometers that will determine the "departure of international forces" from his war-torn country.

Reacting to al-Maliki's comments, al-Sadr's political committee issued a statement Wednesday warning that its cabinet ministers might quit as a result.

"This decision has been taken because Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki did not respect the will of the Iraqi people who went on protest on April 9th demanding ... occupation forces to withdraw from Iraq," al-Ageili said.

CNN's Carolina Sanchez and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.


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