Sadr Blames 'Evil' U.S. for Violence
Monday, April 9, 2007
BAGHDAD, April 8 -- Calling the United States the "great evil," radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Sunday accused U.S. forces of dividing Iraq by stoking violence. He also urged his Mahdi Army militiamen and Iraqi security forces to stop fighting each other in Diwaniyah, a southern city where clashes erupted late last week.
The influential cleric's verbal assault came as the U.S. military announced that 10 American soldiers were killed over the weekend, including six who died Sunday in attacks north and south of Baghdad. At least 69 Iraqis were also killed or found dead across Iraq.
Sadr, a fierce nationalist who has long called for a U.S. withdrawal, stopped short of telling his fighters to rise up against the American troops, a move that would severely complicate an ongoing security offensive underway in Iraq. Instead, he ordered his followers to remain united and to "demonstrate" to "end the occupation."
"My brothers in the Mahdi Army, and my brothers in the security services: enough fighting and rivalry, because that is only a success for our, and your, enemy," Sadr said in a statement brimming with emotion and passages from the Koran. "Infighting between brothers is not right, nor is it right to follow the dirty American sedition, or to defend . . . the occupier."
Sadr said the "enemy" wants "to draw you into a war to end Shiism, or rather Islam," and he urged Iraq's army and police to remain independent of U.S. forces and to avoid being "drawn after the occupier, because he is your stark enemy."
The message came as thousands of Iraqis flowed to the southern holy city of Najaf, heeding Sadr's call to stage a massive anti-U.S. protest on Monday, the fourth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Hundreds of buses and cars clogged the road to Najaf on Sunday, as thousands of his supporters waved Iraqi flags and shouted religious and anti-American slogans.
"No, no, no, to America . . . Moqtada, yes, yes, yes," they chanted, as Iraqi televisions crews followed.
Abdul Razaq al-Nadawi, a Sadr spokesman in Najaf, said clashes erupted south of Baghdad between Mahdi Army militiamen and the police, who were apparently trying to stop them from heading to Najaf. He said that five militiamen were killed after protesters attacked the police with bricks and stones. The report could not be independently verified.
"The situation is tense now," Nadawi said.
The tensions followed two days of fierce battles pitting U.S. and Iraqi forces against Mahdi Army militiamen in Diwaniyah. As U.S. combat aircraft launched airstrikes, house-to-house clashes erupted. A curfew was still being enforced Sunday in the city and U.S. forces patrolled the streets, said Hamid Jiati, a Diwaniyah health official.
Sadr is engaged in an uneasy cooperation with U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad, particularly in his stronghold of Sadr City. He has ordered his fighters to stand down as U.S. troops patrol and conduct security sweeps and to avoid being provoked into battle.