By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
BAGHDAD, May 27 -- Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday urged his followers to stage weekly protests to denounce a long-term security pact being negotiated between the United States and the Iraqi government.
The agreement is designed to set the conditions for an extended American presence in Iraq following the withdrawal of the major portion of U.S. forces. Sadr has long opposed the presence of any U.S. troops on Iraqi soil, and his Mahdi Army militiamen have battled U.S. forces in Baghdad and southern Iraq.
In a statement, Sadr ordered his followers to "demonstrate after every Friday prayer all over the country and until further notice or until this treaty is canceled."
The statement followed last week's peaceful entry of thousands of Iraqi troops into the cleric's Baghdad stronghold, Sadr City. Sadr's loyalists negotiated the entry, receiving assurances that U.S. forces would largely stay out of the sprawling Shiite district in eastern Baghdad.
The statement also calls for any pact reached with the Americans to be put to a referendum in order to "collect millions of signatures rejecting the agreement."
In the northern city of Mosul, a hub of Sunni insurgent activity, gunmen killed a policeman walking in a crowded market area, and a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol in another neighborhood injured six civilians, police said.
Near the town of Baiji, U.S. and Iraqi forces staged a raid Tuesday on suspected Sunni insurgent hideouts, searching for two doctors kidnapped two weeks ago. Clashes erupted, leaving seven insurgents dead, said Maj. Mohammed al-Kaissi of the Baiji police. The police found some of the doctors' possessions, he added.
In Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, a bomb detonated inside a house, killing a member of a U.S.-backed neighborhood patrol and wounding four other patrolmen, as well as an Iraqi army soldier and a civilian, the U.S. military said in a statement. The injured civilian was suspected of conducting the attack, the military said.
Special correspondent Zaid Sabah in Baghdad and Washington Post staff in Najaf, Mosul and Tikrit contributed to this report.