April 7th, 2008 09:24 EST
Shi'ite militia told they must disband
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says the militia of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr must disband if the movement wants to join the political process.
Mr. Maliki told U.S. media Monday that al-Sadr's followers will not be able to compete in upcoming elections unless the Mahdi Army disbands.
It was the first time Mr. Maliki has singled out the Mahdi Army in his call for militias to lay down their weapons.
Al-Sadr's spokesmen immediately rejected the ultimatum. They said the prime minister does not have the right to interfere in Iraq's election process.
Al-Sadr's followers are planning to participate in provincial elections later this year that could redistribute power in Iraq.
Iraqi and U.S. forces have been battling militiamen, mostly from the Mahdi Army, for the past few weeks in Baghdad and the southern city of Basra.
A new round of violence erupted in Baghdad's Sadr City district Sunday, killing at least 22 people a week after al-Sadr had called a cease-fire.
U.S. officials say at least six American soldiers died in attacks and roadside bombings Sunday.
Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said today that Tehran is considering a request from the United States for a fourth round of talks on Iraq's security situation.
The U.S. has not commented on the statement.
Washington accuses Iran of training and equipping Iraqi militants. Tehran denies the charge.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.