Anti-U.S. Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr offered to help the Iraqi government maintain security after bomb attacks against Shi'ites killed 69 people in Baghdad.
Sadr's offer of the use of his paramilitary Mehdi Army late Friday was made at a sensitive time for Iraq following a March election that produced no clear winner.
Sadr had ordered his militia to lay down their weapons and turn to social work. But if the Mehdi Army is reactivated, it could raise tensions.
"I offer my readiness to provide hundreds of believers...to be formal brigades in the Iraqi army or police to protect shrines, mosques, markets, houses and cities," Sadr said in statement.
It was up to the government whether to accept the invitation or not, he said.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh declined to comment on Sadr's statement.
'Not an invitation to take up arms"
The cross-sectarian Iraqiya alliance of former prime minister Iyad Allawi backed by Iraq's Sunni Arab minority won the most seats, coming just ahead of the mainly Shi'ite State of Law coalition headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Neither coalition won a majority in the 325-seat parliament.
Sadr's party won some 40 seats in the election, making him a potential kingmaker in talks on forming a government.
Friday's blasts hit different areas of Baghdad, including Shi'ite Muslims at midday prayer outside Sadr's main office.
Officials said the attacks were aimed at stoking sectarian tensions and were in revenge for a series of recent blows against al-Qaeda in Iraq, including killing its two leaders.
"We call on our people and (Iraq's) national patriotic political powers to adhere to national unity," Maliki said after Friday's attacks.
Hakim al-Zamili, a senior member of Sadr's party, said the cleric's statement was an invitation to cooperate with the government rather than reactivating the Mehdi Army.
"This is not an invitation to the Mehdi Army to take up arms," he said.
Sadr opposes a second term for Maliki, who sent troops backed by U.S. forces to crush the Mehdi Army in 2008.
Adel Kadhim, an Iraqi political analyst, said Sadr's move showed he wants to use his political power instead of violence.
"The rules of the game have changed, Sadr has learned from the lessons of the past," he said. "The Sunnis (and Sadr)... both realise they have a sole objective, which is not to see Mailki as the next prime minister."
ReutersLast Mod: 24 Nisan 2010, 17:25