A radical anti-American cleric said in a rare interview that he would stay away from Iraqi politics as long as U.S. troops remained in the country. Moqtada Sadr, a Shiite Muslim, also condemned senior Shiite leaders and the government for embracing this year's elections, which he said "legitimized the occupation."
"As long as the occupier is here, I will not interfere in the political process," Sadr said late Sunday at his home in Najaf, a Shiite holy city south of Baghdad. "I would like to condemn and denounce the last Iraqi government's decision to legalize the occupation."
Sadr indirectly criticized Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, for endorsing the Jan. 30 elections that led to the formation of the country's Shiite-led government. Minority Sunni Muslims largely boycotted the vote.
"In reality, the electoral process was designed to legitimize the occupation, rather than ridding the country of the occupation," said Sadr, whose militiamen have battled U.S. forces. The United States formally ended its occupation of Iraq a year ago but still has nearly 140,000 troops in the country.
Sadr's followers have previously voiced contempt for Iraq's senior Shiite clerics, including Sistani, for their perceived tolerance of the U.S. presence, but they have refrained from such attacks in recent months.
Sadr also criticized the alleged desecration of the Koran by interrogators and guards at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying their actions were criminal.