BAGHDAD, (AP) -Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday fired two senior members of his movement after they met with the top U.S. military officer in Iraq, a lawmaker close to the anti-American cleric said.
Salam al-Maliki and Qusai Abdul-Wahab, members of parliament in al-Sadr’s bloc, were having dinner at the home of former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari on Monday when Gen. David Petraeus, arrived, the legislator said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Al-Maliki and Abdul-Wahab did not leave the room when Petraeus walked in, he said. Al-Sadr has decreed that lawmakers from his bloc must not speak with U.S. officials and sacked the men when he heard of the infraction, the lawmaker told The Associated Press.
Al-Maliki, a former transportation minister, denied both that he had been expelled and that he had met Petraeus.
Abdul-Wahab, confirmed the pair were expelled from the party and said they had gone to al-Jaafari’s house for a lunch that included about 70 other government officials, lawmakers and military men. He confirmed that Petraeus was present but denied he or al-Maliki had spoken with him.
Another member of al-Sadr’s bloc also confirmed the firings, but said he had no information about the meeting at al-Jaafari’s home. Saleh al-Aujaili said the two deputies were expelled from the Sadrist movement because “they met American officials in the Green Zone.”
“The decision was taken at the orders of his eminence Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr,” he said. “The political committee of the Sadrist movement informed us about the orders of Sheik Muqtada and tomorrow we will tell the parliament’s chairmanship that we want to replace them in line with parliament rules.”
Iraqi legislative regulations allow a political bloc to replace members, but only if they resign, which the men were expected to do.
U.S. troops recently have cracked down on al-Sadr’s followers and captured some of his senior associates, including Sheik Qais Khazaali and cleric Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji.
In an interview with U.S.-funded Alhuraa television, al-Maliki said “we did not meet any American official but our work was to win the release of Sheik Qais Khazaali and Sheik Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji.”
Al-Sadr launched two uprisings against U.S. troops in April and August 2004 that left hundreds of people dead.
Since a major security plan was launched seven weeks ago, U.S. and Iraqi troops have targeted members of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. U.S. officials say al-Sadr is currently in neighboring Iran. His followers say he is in Iraq.