Friday, May 25, 2007


Al-Sadr re-appears in public

(AP) - Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appeared in public for the first time in months on Friday and delivered a fiery anti-American sermon in the holy Shiite city of Kufa. "No, no for the devil. No, no for America. No, no for the occupation. No, no for Israel," he chanted at the start of his speech. The roughly 6,000 worshippers in the mosque repeated after him. Al-Sadr told the worshippers that "the occupation forces should leave Iraq," and condemned fighting between his Mahdi Army militia and Iraqi security forces, saying it "served the interests of the occupiers."
Al-Sadr had gone into hiding in Iran four months ago at the start of the Baghdad security crackdown, but U.S. military officials said early Friday that he had returned to the holy city of Najaf, where he has a house. Residents in Najaf said they saw his motorcade leaving the city and heading toward Kufa on Friday morning. The black-turbaned leader then entered the revered mosque for prayers.
The 33-year-old leader, who has had an antagonistic relationship with the United States, is believed to be honing plans to consolidate political gains and foster ties with Iran. His Mahdi Army fought U.S. troops to a virtual standstill in 2004, but he ordered his militants off the streets when the U.S. began its security crackdown in the Baghdad area to avoid confrontation.
His associates say his strategy is based in part on a belief that Washington will soon start reducing troop strength, leaving behind a huge hole in Iraq's security and political power structure that he can fill. It was not clear why al-Sadr chose to return to Iraq now, although a major rival, Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and went to Iran for treatment.
Al-Sadr also believes that Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government may soon collapse amid its failure to improve security, services and the economy, al-Sadr's aides say. A political reshuffle would give the Sadrist movement, with its 30 seats in the 275-member parliament, a good chance of becoming a major player.

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