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Party calls for new Iraq elections

The political party loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called Monday for the dissolution of Iraq's parliament and new elections in another move that could escalate the country's growing sectarian crisis.

Bahaa al-Aaraji, the head of the Sadrists' bloc in parliament, said the elections are needed because of instability in the country and problems that threaten Iraq's sovereignty.

"The political partners cannot find solutions for the problems that threaten to divide Iraq," he said.

Iraq plunged into a new sectarian crisis last week, just days after the last American troops withdrew at the end of a nearly nine-year war.

The new political crisis has been accompanied by a wave of attacks on the Iraqi capital by suspected Sunni insurgents linked to al-Qaida. A suicide bomber set off a car bomb Monday at a checkpoint leading to the Interior Ministry, killing seven people and injuring 32, officials said. Police and hospital officials said the bomber struck during morning rush hour, hitting one of many security barriers set up around the ministry's building.

The anti-American Sadrist bloc is a partner in the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Al-Maliki is in a political showdown with the country's top Sunni political figure, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, after the government issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi on allegations his bodyguards ran hit squads targeting government officials.

The prime minister threatened to form a government without al-Hashemi's Sunni-backed political party, Iraqiya, which is boycotting parliament and mulling whether to pull out of the ruling coalition.

The Sadrists have played an important role in maintaining Shiite domination over government -- their support last year catapulted al-Maliki back to the prime minister's office for a second term.

For the Sadrists' proposal to dissolve parliament to gain traction, it would take the consent of at least one-third of parliament, the president and the prime minister or a simple majority of lawmakers. Al-Maliki, who only secured his position after nearly nine months of political wrangling after the last elections, would likely be loathe to go through the process again and risk an unfavorable outcome.

Al-Aaraji said the proposal first needs approval of the larger coalition between the Sadrists and al-Maliki's alliance, the two most powerful Shiite parties.

A Sunni lawmaker with Iraqiya, the Sunni-backed bloc of the wanted vice president, said new elections would not bring security and stability. He cited the prolonged negotiations that were needed to agree on the government in place now and said a new election would only bring the same people to office.