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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iraqi Warlord Ends Political Boycott

BAGHDAD -- The political movement of Iraqi cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr said it would end a two-month boycott of the parliament on Sunday, smoothing over a rift with its Shiite allies in the U.S.-backed government.

The political reconciliation with a group viewed with suspicion in Washington came the day after U.S. forces suffered one of their deadliest days in Iraq. A total of 19 soldiers were killed, including 12 on a helicopter and five in a clash in a Shiite holy city that the U.S. military blamed on militiamen.

Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been under pressure to crack down on the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to Sadr that the United States sees as the biggest threat to security in Iraq. But his past dependence on Sadr's political support has made that difficult.

The Sadrists announced a boycott in November to press their demand for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and to protest against a meeting between Maliki and President George W. Bush.

"We are ending our boycott of the ministries and the parliament," Bahaa al-Araji, a senior member of the Sadrist group, told a news conference with the ruling Shiite Alliance.

Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said an all-party committee would discuss calls for a timetable for U.S. troops to withdraw and the renewal of the United Nations mandate for the U.S. presence in Iraq, which has in the past been at the request of Baghdad.

"This is a new beginning," he told the news conference. "We want to say to the world that an Iraqi solution for Iraqi problems is the key, and others must support these solutions."

The U.S. military on Sunday revised the number killed in Saturday's Black Hawk helicopter crash from 13 to 12. It said another five soldiers were killed and three wounded in the clash at a government building in Kerbala.

It was unclear whether the helicopter was shot down. U.S. military spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Josslyn Aberle said the cause was still under investigation.

Two other soldiers were killed elsewhere on Saturday.

It was the deadliest day for U.S. forces since Bush announced that he was sending about 20,000 more troops to Iraq to try to prevent all-out sectarian civil war between Shiite Muslims and the once-dominant Sunni Arab minority.

His plans have run into resistance from opposition Democrats who now control Congress and skepticism in Washington about how far Maliki can make good on promises to disarm Shiite militias.

The U.S. military said Sunday that a brigade of around 3,200 soldiers had arrived in Baghdad, the first of some 17,000 planned reinforcements for the city, and it would be fully operational by the start of February.

The Kerbala clash came as pilgrims converged on the city 110 kilometers south of Baghdad at the start of the 10-day rite of Ashura, a high point of the Shiite calendar and a previous target for attacks by al-Qaida and other Sunni militants.