NAJAF, Iraq, (AP) – Anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on the Iraqi resistance Wednesday to stage “revenge operations” against American forces to protest Israel’s Gaza offensive.
The statement issued by his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf came as criticism is mounting over civilian deaths in Gaza.
Al-Sadr also urged that Palestinian flags to be raised on mosques, churches and buildings in Iraq in a show of solidarity and that all countries close Israeli embassies.
The cleric issued a statement last month calling for protests, and his followers have complied with rallies against the offensive.
But he said more steps are needed “due to the continuation of Arab silence and the massacres committed by the Zionist enemy under U.S. and international cover.”
“I call upon the honest Iraqi resistance to carry out revenge operations against the great accomplice of the Zionist enemy,” he said, using rhetoric referring to the United States and Israel.
Al-Sadr and his militiamen have been staunch opponents of the U.S. presence in Iraq, with fierce battles in 2004. He ordered his fighters to stand down in 2007 but said he would retain a smaller fighting force as long as U.S. troops remain in Iraq.
Israel says it launched the air and ground attack to end rocketing by the Islamic militant group Hamas that has traumatized southern Israel.
The U.S. shares Israel’s concerns about Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization. But the Bush administration said Wednesday that there is an urgent need to secure a lasting cease-fire that will end ongoing violence in Gaza.
Palestinian and U.N. figures show that about 300 of the more than 670 Palestinians killed so far have been civilians.
Israel has lost six soldiers since launching a ground offensive on Saturday — four of them in “friendly fire” incidents — and four other Israelis have been killed by rocket fire, three of them civilians, since fighting began on Dec. 27.