http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/world/13509995.htm Knight Ridder Newspapers BAGHDAD, Iraq - Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric who just a year ago encouraged his followers to kill U.S. soldiers, has successfully transformed his ragtag followers into a political force that could dramatically reshape the next parliament. Preliminary results show al-Sadr supporters holding as many as 31 seats in the 275-seat parliament, a number, if it holds, that would make Sadrists the single-largest group in Iraq's first democratically elected permanent parliament. The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq will release official election results as early as next week. Al-Sadr's emergence as a potent political figure has prompted worries that the capricious leader could bring a hard-line Islamic slant to Iraq's new parliament, thwarting any remaining hopes that Iraqis can form a centrist, stabilizing government. "He is a real spoiler," said Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst and Iraq specialist at the National Defense University in Washington. Some fear that al-Sadr will employ both violence and the political process, keeping his Mahdi Army militia while other supporters participate in parliament. Others hope that his supporters' rise to parliament will wean him off violence as he gains clout over the government. Some even think that he could provide a bridge to the disaffected Sunni minority, with whom he shares a strong anti-American sentiment.