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Sadr Exhorts Iraqis to Resist US - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In his first speech since returning to Iraq, radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr addresses followers on January 8, 2011 in Najaf, calling on the Iraqi people to resist the US occupation of their country by all means. (AFP)

In his first speech since returning to Iraq, radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr addresses followers on January 8, 2011 in Najaf, calling on the Iraqi people to resist the US occupation of their country by all means. (AFP)

NAJAF, (AFP) — Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Saturday exhorted a boisterous crowd to resist the US “occupation” by all means, in his first speech since returning to his Iraqi home city of Najaf.

“We still resist the occupier, by military resistance, and all the means of resistance,” Sadr said in the central Iraq shrine city, where he returned on Wednesday after about four years of self-imposed exile.

Tens of thousands of people turned out to hear him speak, waving a forest of Iraqi flags and pictures of the cleric.

“Iraq passed through difficult circumstances, which made everyone cry, and did not satisfy anyone except our joint enemy — America, Israel and Britain,” Sadr said.

“So say after me: ‘No, no to America!'” The crowd did so, but in voices the cleric deemed to be too quiet.

Sadr asked: “Are you afraid of America? Say ‘no, no to America! No, no to Israel!” The crowd roared back the same chant.

About 50,000 US troops remain in Iraq, but are required under a security accord between Baghdad and Washington to withdraw by the end of the year.

US forces in Iraq have mainly focused on training Iraqi forces, after combat operations in the country were officially declared over from September 1, 2010.

Despite the end of combat operations, American soldiers are allowed to return fire in self-defence and take part in operations if requested by their Iraqi counterparts, under the terms of a bilateral security pact.

In his speech calling for resistance against the US presence, Sadr stressed that other Iraqis would not be harmed by his forces.

“Our hand will not touch any Iraqi… we only target the occupier, by all means of resistance. We are one people. We don’t agree with some groups that carry out assassinations,” Sadr said.

“For the unity of Iraq, say after me: Yes, yes for Iraq! Yes, yes, for peace! Yes, yes for harmony!” The crowd yelled back the cleric’s words.

“If the conflicts took place among brothers, let us forget this page and turn it forever, and live united in peace and security,” Sadr said, in an apparent reference to sectarian violence in Iraq.

“We have to put an end to the suffering of the Iraqi people, by our unity,” he said.

The fiery, controversial Sadr gained widespread popularity among Shiites in the months after the 2003 US-led invasion, and his Mahdi Army militia later battled American and Iraqi government forces in several bloody confrontations.

He was identified by the Pentagon in 2006 as the biggest threat to stability in Iraq.

His militia became the most active and feared armed Shiite group, and was blamed by Washington for death-squad killings of thousands of Sunnis.

But in August 2008, Sadr suspended the activities of the Mahdi Army, which once numbered in the tens of thousands, after major US and Iraqi assaults on its strongholds in Baghdad and southern Iraq in the spring.

Following the ceasefire, US military commanders said his action had been instrumental in helping bring about a significant decrease in the levels of violence across Iraq.

Despite only rare appearances in public, the cleric is idolized by millions of Shiites, especially in Najaf, where he has his headquarters, and in the impoverished Baghdad neighbourhood of Sadr City, which is named for his father, a revered cleric who was killed by gunmen in 1999.

Sadr left Iraq at the end of 2006, according to his movement, and had reportedly been pursuing religious studies in the Iranian holy city of Qom. He returned to his home city of Najaf on Wednesday.

An Iraqi woman follows a speech by controversial Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on January 8, 2011. (AFP)

An Iraqi woman follows a speech by controversial Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on January 8, 2011. (AFP)

Supporters of Iraq's controversial Shiite clergyman Moqtada al-Sadr carry his portrait as they listen to his first speech since returning to Iraq. (AFP)

Supporters of Iraq’s controversial Shiite clergyman Moqtada al-Sadr carry his portrait as they listen to his first speech since returning to Iraq. (AFP)

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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