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Key Iraqi Shiite cleric says he is quitting politics

BAGHDAD--One of Iraq's most influential Shiite clerics, Muqtada al-Sadr, says he has decided to quit politics, distancing himself from any political movement that uses his name.

Al-Sadr has made such announcements before, but the current declaration comes only two months before national parliamentary elections. Sadrists hold 40 out of 325 seats in the legislature, making them the largest single Shiite bloc, and hold six Cabinet seats.

In the late Saturday statement, al-Sadr said his move was to “preserve the reputation of the al-Sadr (family) ... and to put an end to all the wrongdoings that were conducted, or could be conducted, under their title.” It did not explain further.

“I announce here that I will not interfere in politics. There is no political entity that represents me anymore nor any position in parliament and government,” it said. “Whoever acts against this will be subjected to legal and religious action.” He also ordered all al-Sadr political offices to be closed down.

The move did not appear to be expected. Al-Sadr officials could not be reached for contact. The movement announced a news conference, only to cancel it.

Al-Sadr came to prominence in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, whose regime killed his father and grandfather. He established his Mahdi Army militia that fought the Americans and is blamed by many Iraqis for much of the sectarian violence that raged in Iraq in 2006 and 2007.

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