Sadr lashes out at the U.S., and while he’s at it, Israel. Oh, and Satan. By Karin Bruillard and Sudarsan Raghavan for the Washington Post:
BAGHDAD, March 16 — Firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Friday called upon followers inside his stronghold of Sadr City to resist U.S. forces who are trying to stabilize the capital. Officials in his organization said the cleric was advocating a peaceful uprising.
“Raise your voices, all of you loving your brothers and united against your enemy saying as your leader taught you, ‘No America, no Israel, no, no Satan,’ by standing and demonstrating that way,” Sadr said in a message distributed at the Kufa mosque in southern Iraq, according to a translation by the Washington-based SITE Institute, which tracks militant groups. In recent weeks, Sadr has appeared to cooperate with U.S. and Iraqi troops as they implement a month-old security plan in Baghdad and other parts of the country, even as he has continued to criticize the American presence in Iraq.
On Friday, thousands of Sadr’s followers demonstrated in several parts of Iraq, including Sadr City, to protest the U.S. role. They denounced the neighborhood security outposts and garrisons being set up under the plan and demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Sadr’s statement came one day after gunmen attacked a convoy carrying the mayor of Sadr City, Rahim al-Darraji, leaving him seriously wounded and killing at least two of his bodyguards. Darraji, a Sadr appointee, took part in negotiations with U.S. officials to allow American troops to conduct security sweeps and build a garrison in Sadr City.
It was unclear whether Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia has often attacked U.S. and Iraqi forces, was issuing a call to arms. “The statement calls for calming down and self-control and to be careful and cautious of the occupation forces and their agents, because we have become surrounded by them from all sides,” said Haider al-Tarfy, a senior Sadr representative. Friday’s communique was not Sadr’s first condemnation of the American presence.
Last week, Sadr asked his supporters to “demand the occupier leaves our dear Iraq so that we could live in independence and stability.” In late February, he said, “The security plan will not be good if it is controlled and ruled by our enemies, the occupiers.” Those statements did not incite violence.
As U.S. troops have carried out raids in Sadr City as part of the security plan, the Mahdi Army has lain low. Friday’s statement appeared to address recent public comments by U.S. military officials suggesting that the militia’s low profile represented tacit cooperation with the security plan.