June 23, 2004 – Rebel Shiâ€™ite cleric Mutaqa Al-Sadr has apparently declined an invitation to send a delegate from his movement to join 1,000 other Iraqis at a political conference next month, where Iraqi leaders will select a 100-member national council to advise the new interim government until the anticipated January elections. Al-Sadrâ€™s Mehdi Army militia fought US troops for ten weeks in Najaf, Kufa and Karbala, and continues to engage American forces in Baghdadâ€™s Sadr City neighborhood, but recently has shown signs of transformation to less militant methods. "We are a popular movement among the Iraqi people, yet we are only offered one seat," complained Al-Sadrâ€™s spokesman, Ahmed Al-Shibani. "There are some people given a seat who only represent themselves."
The invitation followed Al-Sadrâ€™s agreement to endorse the new Iraqi interim government, announced in an Al-Arabiya television interview with Shibani last week. Days later, Al-Sadr told his fighters in Najaf that they could return to their homes, Reuters reported. Fuad Maasum, the chairman of the committee preparing the conference, told the Australian Broadcast Company (ABC) that Al-Sadr was invited because he "has begun to transform his militia into a political organization, which is considered a positive step and his movement has roots in the country." According to ABC, the council will have the power to approve Iraqâ€™s 2005 Budget, veto legislation, question ministers on policy matters and pick a new president should one die in office.