Al-Sadr Calls for Dialogue in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Aides to Muqtada al-Sadr called Monday for dialogue to resolve a violent standoff with the Iraqi government, saying that the radical Shiite cleric would disband his militia if senior religious leaders ordered it.

Aide Hassan al-Zarqani said from Iran that al-Sadr will consult Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other top Shiite clerics if the government continues to pressure al-Sadr to disband the militia or see his candidates banned from upcoming elections.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned al-Sadr on Sunday to disband his militia or face a ban from politics.

Al-Zarqani said in a telephone interview that al-Sadr "will obey" if al-Sistani, the highest Shiite authority in Iraq, and the other clerics recommend that he do so.

The Sadrists had said earlier that a move to ban them from elections would be unconstitutional.

Al-Sadr aide Salah al-Obeidi said al-Maliki doesn't have the authority to make such a decision because the issue is up to Iraq's Electoral High Commission and parliament.

"We are calling for dialogue as a way to solve problems among Iraqi groups," al-Obeidi told AP Television News in the holy city of Najaf. "Al-Sadr's office affirms that the door is open to reach an understanding regarding these problems."

The U.S. military, meanwhile, said two more soldiers died in roadside bombings Sunday, raising the day's American death toll to at least five. The announcement comes a day before the two top U.S. officials in Iraq are scheduled to brief Congress on prospects for the eventual withdrawal of American troops.

Gunbattles also continued Monday in Baghdad's main Shiite district of Sadr City, a day after fierce clashes broke out when some 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops began an operation to push deeper into the Mahdi Army's largest stronghold.

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Associated Press writers Hamid Ahmed and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.

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