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Imam decries militias, clashes in Sadr City

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A top Iraqi political figure -- who also is an imam at a prominent Shiite mosque in the capital -- urged the abolition of militias Friday and decried violence and pervasive corruption in Baghdad's Sadr City.

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Sheikh Jalal al-Din Ali al-Saghir is a parliament member and a representative of the most influential Shiite cleric.

Sheikh Jalal al-Din Ali al-Saghir, speaking at Buratha Mosque, blamed the corruption on followers of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Saghir is the most senior representative in Baghdad of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, arguably the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq. As a member of Iraq's parliament, Al-Saghir represents the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, part of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance.

His political group dominates the Iraqi security forces and has been fighting members of a rival Shiite group, al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia.

He said the Supreme Council, part of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance, once had an armed group called the Badr Brigade that is now a renamed non-military organization. He repeated Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's call for all armed groups not affiliated with the government to disband.

"We said from the beginning, and since 2003, the necessity of laying down the weapons by all, and the weapons should be in the hand of the state," al-Saghir said.

He praised Iraqi security forces' efforts in Basra, the southern Shiite city where al-Maliki launched an offensive in March. The cleric said al-Maliki freed the region of gangs.

"We can say that the Iraqi security forces have made a great change in terms of establishing the security and imposing the law," al-Saghir said, adding that effective security must be imposed to ensure the fairness of this autumn's provincial elections.

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"The elections will be tomorrow," he said, meaning soon. "How can we respect ourselves as politicians, political parties and officials within the government? How can we respect ourselves by saying we conduct honest elections while there are gangs controlling areas or provinces?"

Meanwhile, Sadrist cleric Suhail al-Iqabi delivered a fiery sermon in the eastern part of Baghdad as hundreds of Sadr City residents sat on the street performing Friday prayers. Al-Iqabi said an "act of genocide" is taking place in the town.

Speaking to hundreds of worshippers chanting pro-Sadr slogans, al-Iqabi accused the government of holding a grudge against Sadrists and the people of Sadr City "who are facing genocide in every sense of the word, cutting off the water, electricity and shelling the innocent civilians, killing women and children and detaining women."

His sermon included a prayer asking God to strengthen al-Sadr's Mehdi army and "sharpen their weapons."

"What the prime minister stated in his press conference, all that he said that was so far from reality, the nonsense and false accusations he used to cover up his huge failure leading the nation's affairs," al-Iqabi said. "... We call on all politicians, journalists, intellectuals, civil society institutions, tribal leaders and clergy to visit Sadr City to witness the crimes committed by the occupier and government forces."

In Sadr City, nearly 1,000 civilians and fighters are thought to have been killed since late March in fighting between security forces and Shiite militants. However, al-Saghir said there has been "good security progress." Video Watch as fighting destroys a school »

"I believe the coming days will witness many developments which will lead to the protection of this city from these gangs," he said.

He urged people who have grievances to make their voices heard through the political process. He decried those who arm themselves under the pretext of sectarianism or occupation.

Al-Saghir emphasized what he called corruption in Sadr City and the role of Sadrist followers in promoting it.

He noted that imams from the Supreme Council were booted from several mosques and replaced by politically correct imams, and he said companies have to pay off the Sadrists to get contracts. He said fuel tanker drivers face the risk of losing their trucks to fire or theft if they don't pay off political groups.

Meanwhile Friday, a U.S. soldier was killed in Baghdad after a roadside bomb struck the soldier's vehicle, the military said.

The soldier was part of a combat patrol in eastern Baghdad when a roadside bomb struck the patrol vehicle at about 6:15 p.m. local time.

The soldier's name is being withheld until family has been notified, the U.S. army's public affairs department in Baghdad said.

Also Friday, the U.S. military said one of the two suicide bombers who struck a wedding convoy this week in northern Iraq was a woman "imitating pregnancy."

The military blamed the Sunni militant group al Qaeda in Iraq for Thursdays' attack that killed 35 people and wounded dozens more in Balad Ruz, a town northeast of Baghdad in the volatile Diyala province.

The U.S. military announced Friday that a U.S. Air Force drone crashed in southern Iraq, and investigators suspect mechanical failure. The MQ-1 Predator drone was used mainly for reconnaissance, the military said.

On Thursday, Iraqi lawmakers were in Iran to confront officials there with evidence of Tehran's support for militias and outlaws in Iraq, Iraqi officials said.

Iran's state-run news agency IRNA confirmed the delegation was in Tehran.

Parliament members from the ruling United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite coalition, intended to discuss how the training and arming of militias is harmful for Iraq -- and for Iran as a neighbor, said Sami al-Askari, an adviser to al-Maliki.

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Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said the delegation intended to provide evidence, confessions and pictures indicating that Iran is supplying weapons and training fighters inside Iraq.

Bush administration officials have said Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force has provided training and weapons for militants in Iraq. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq, Jomana Karadsheh, Shirzad Bozorgmehr and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

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