updated 4/5/2007 10:30:23 PM ET 2007-04-06T02:30:23

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has asked the prime minister to suspend two Cabinet ministers from his bloc because they backed a plan that likely will turn the oil-rich city of Kirkuk over to Kurdish control, a parliament member said Thursday.

Saleh al-Aujaili, the Sadr bloc legislator, said the cleric had asked Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to hold the seats open for his block when he reshuffles his cabinet, a moved that has been promised for weeks.

Health Minister Ali al-Shammari and Agriculture Minister Yarrub Nazim, both members of the Sadrist movement, were among Cabinet ministers who agreed last week to a plan that would resettle Arabs from Kirkuk who had been moved into the city during Saddam Hussein's Baath party rule, the legislator said.

The decision was seen likely to guarantee a Kurdish majority in the city when it is to vote by year's end on whether it should be attached to the Kurd's semiautonomous region just to the north. The vote on the city's future was mandated under Iraq's constitution adopted in October 2005.

Adaman opposition
Shiite and Sunni lawmakers have declared deep opposition to the Kirkuk plan, although they have no say in the matter short of calling for a vote of confidence and bringing down the government.

Repeated calls by The Associated Press to the ministers were not answered.

Al-Aujaili said al-Sadr's movement had asked al-Maliki "to suspend their membership in the Cabinet until the government reshuffle takes place."

It was not clear whether al-Sadr was moving to cleanse the organization of those he suspects of disloyalty to his anti-American stand, but two members of parliament from his bloc were ejected from the organization because they did not leave a luncheon Monday when U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus arrived, al-Aujaili said on Wednesday.

Al-Sadr has ordered his militia, the feared Mahdi Army, to stay off the streets during the U.S.-Iraq security crackdown, but many of its leaders have been rounded up nevertheless in pinpoint raids, especially in the militia stronghold of Sadr City. The arrests are thought to have destabilized al-Sadr's power base both politically and militarily.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh did not answer calls seeking comment about al-Maliki's plans to agree to al-Sadr's request.

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