Iraq's premier tells al-Sadr to disband militia

Baghdad - Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Monday that his movement will be barred from political participation unless it disbands its militia.

Al-Maliki was quoted by US television network CNN as saying a decision has already been made to disallow the al-Sadr Bloc from taking part in the political process unless it disbands its Mahdi Army militia.

The Al-Sadr Bloc has a big following among poor Shiite Muslims in southern provinces and parts of Baghdad and it made impressive gains in legislative elections in December 2005. It has 30 of 275 seats in parliament.

However, al-Maliki's ultimatum dampens the bloc's hopes of potential big gains in municipal elections slated for October.

Al-Sadr had ordered his fighters over a week ago to halt fighting against government troops, who launched a crackdown targeting militias in Basra and other provinces on March 25.

Meanwhile, a large explosion destroyed a house in the Asdiqa area in the centre of Basra, the US military said in a statement.

The number of casualties is not known but the coalition and Iraqi troops had nothing to do with the incident, the military said.

But witnesses at the scene of the blast told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa that the house was hit by shells fired from a helicopter.

A family of three was killed in the shelling, the witnesses said.

Also in Basra, General Abdel-Karim Khalaf, the spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, escaped unscathed a bomb attack on his motorcade in Nashwa district, police said.

Two guards were injured in the attack.

In Baghdad, a student was shot dead by a sniper while he was standing in the playground of a school on Palestine Street in east Baghdad, according to witnesses.

No further details were immediately available. (dpa)