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Iraqi Cleric Tells Followers: ‘We Are Still Fighters’

‘We are still resisting the occupier militarily and culturally and by all the means of resistance’

Image: Followers gather for prayers in Sadr City, Baghdad, beside a poster of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr
Followers gather for Friday prayers in the Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad, Iraq, near a poster depicting radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. (Photo credit: Karim Kadim / AP)

Reuters and The Associated Press via MSNBC.com
Jan. 8, 2011

NAJAF, Iraq — An anti-American cleric whose militia was once the nemesis of U.S. troops in Iraq said Saturday that his followers were still resisting the U.S. forces militarily, telling the adoring crowd: “We are still fighters.”

But Muqtada al-Sadr, now a formidable force in Iraqi politics and not just a militia leader, tempered his fiery words by saying the new Iraqi government should be given a chance to get American forces out of the country in a “suitable” way.

In his first speech since returning from almost four years of self-imposed exile in Iran, the 37-year-old cleric whose Shiite militias once battled U.S. troops and terrorized Iraqi Sunnis stopped short of explicitly urging violence against Americans.

But he left open the possibility that some 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq could be targeted before they are set to leave at the end of this year. …

“Let the whole world hear that we reject America. No, no to the occupier,” al-Sadr said during the 35-minute speech.

‘Target only the occupier’

“We don’t kill Iraqis — our hands do not kill Iraqis. But we target only the occupier with all the means of resistance,” he added.

“We are still resisters and we are still resisting the occupier militarily and culturally and by all the means of resistance,” al-Sadr said.

While he told the crowd “we are still fighters,” he also said resistance did not necessarily mean using violence.

Al-Sadr has long branded the U.S. military as occupiers in Iraq, and Washington considers him a security threat.

Yet after winning 40 seats in March parliamentary elections, al-Sadr’s political muscle makes him a force that cannot be ignored.

His movement took eight top leadership posts in the new coalition government, which was created after months of negotiation following the election.

Addressing an adoring and frenzied crowd of thousands — some had slept in the street outside his house for days — al-Sadr called the U.S., Israel and Britain “our common enemies.” …

“Our aim is to expel the occupier with any means. The resistance does not mean that everyone can carry a weapon. The weapon is only for the people of the weapons,” he added.

The cleric seemed eager to shed the image of a rabble-rouser and appear statesmanlike. …

A security agreement between Washington and Baghdad requires all U.S. forces to be out of Iraq by the end of the year. …

Al-Sadr rose to power after the March 2003 invasion and has since been revered by poor Iraqi Shiites.

Formidable foe

His Mahdi Army gunmen were a formidable foe of American troops and Iraqi government forces between 2004 and 2008, but al-Sadr fled to Iran in 2007 under threat of arrest for allegedly killing another cleric.

Although absent from Iraq for four years, he has maintained strict control over the political and military wings of his movement from his base in Iran. …

It was only with al-Sadr’s support — and with the blessing of Iran — that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was able to muster enough support from former opponents to win a second term in office after his political party fell short in the March elections. …

Video

Radical Iraqi cleric speaks to frenzied crowd (MSNBC, Jan. 8, 2011) – Militia leader and anti-American cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, returned to Iraq after a 4-year exile where he delivered a speech to a large gathering of his supporters saying, “we reject America.” NBC’s Ali Arouzi reports on al-Sadr’s return and his influence on the policies of Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. (02:31)

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1/13/11 Update

Biden: Iraq’s Success in U.S. Interest


U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011. (Photo credit: Maya Alleruzzo / AP)

By Lara Jakes

Jan. 13, 2011

BAGHDAD — Vice President Joe Biden emphasized to Iraqi leaders Thursday that the U.S. wants nothing more than for Iraq to be a free and democratic country in a daylong visit that officials said would focus on the departure of American troops from the country. …

Officials said they expected the issue of whether to keep some U.S. forces in Iraq beyond the Dec. 31[2011] deadline to dominate the agenda with Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani. …

Iraq’s top military commander Gen. Babaker Shawkat Zebari, has said U.S. troops should stay until Iraq’s security forces can defend its borders — which he said could take until 2020.

But al-Maliki, under pressure from hardline Shiite Muslims, has signaled he wants American troops to leave on schedule. Last weekend, the influential and anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr returned to Iraq after nearly four years of exile in neighboring Iran, in part to insist that the U.S. “occupiers” must leave on time or face retribution among his followers “by all the means of resistance.” …

Keeping troops in Iraq presents a political headache for both President Barack Obama, who is up for re-election next year and promised to end the war in his 2008 campaign, and for al-Maliki, who held onto a second term as prime minister only with al-Sadr’s support. …

Iraqi police officials said three mosques — two Sunni and one Shiite — were targeted by the roadside blasts Thursday morning. Eleven people were also wounded. …

Full story

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Related reports on this site

Image: Moqtada Al-Sadr Supporters Rally Against US Presence In Iraq
Iraqi supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burn an American flag during a protest on Thursday, April 9, 2009 to mark six years after the fall of Baghdad to U.S.-led forces. (Photo credit: Muhannad Fala’ah / Getty Images)

In Iraq, ‘Victory’ for Iran (Nov. 12, 2010)


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Muqtada al-Sadr Rises to Power (Oct. 1, 2010)


In Sadr City district of Baghdad, a billboard has an image of Moktada al-Sadr, second from left. His candidates won 40 seats in last March’s elections. (Photo credit: Shiho Fukada / The New York Times)

Pro-Iran Pact Emerges in Iraq (May 5, 2010)


Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaking during a press conference from an undisclosed location on the eve of Iraq’s general election, urging people to vote. (Photo via Sky News)

Muqtada al-Sadr on the March (March 31, 2010)

Image: Shiite demonstrators in Baghdad
Thousands of demonstrators march during a rally at Firdous Square in Baghdad, Friday, Nov. 21, 2008. Followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who called America “an enemy of Islam,” marched against a pact letting U.S. forces stay in Iraq until 2011 and toppled an effigy of President George W. Bush where U.S. troops once tore down a statue of Saddam Hussein. (Photo credit: Ali al-Saadi / AFP – Getty Images)

Iraq Set to Elect Pro-Iran Leader (Feb. 25, 2010)

Iraq Protest
A protester uses his shoe to strike an effigy of President Bush, as thousands of followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr converge on Firdous Square in central Baghdad, Iraq, for a protest against a proposed U.S.-Iraqi security pact, Nov. 21, 2009. (Photo credit: Karim Kadim / AP)

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — January 8, 2010

Giuliani Doesn’t Remember 9/11

One year ago today, I reported that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani falsely claimed that there were no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil under President George W. Bush.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — January 8, 2009

Iraq Deadliest for Media – Again

Image: Family members of Suhaib Adnan mourn over his coffin
Family members of Suhaib Adnan, a TV reporter who was killed in a suicide bombing attack in Abu Ghraib, mourn during his funeral in Baghdad, Iraq, on Wednesday, March 11, 2009. (Photo credit: Loay Hameed / AP)

Two years ago today, on Jan. 8, 2009, I reported that Iraq remained the deadliest country for journalists in 2008, followed by India and Mexico.

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5 Responses to “Sadr’s Triumphant Return to Iraq”
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