Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Sadrists react with anger to Petraeus report

(AFP) -- Moqtada al-Sadr's powerful Shiite movement reacted angrily on Wednesday to a progress report by the top US general and diplomat in Iraq, contesting their findings and vowing to fight on until all American troops leave. "The report did not touch on Iraqi reality," said Abdul-Mahdi al-Mutayri, a member of the politburo of Sadr's office in the central city of Najaf.
"It has damaged the interests of the people because it does not reflect the true situation in Iraq," Mutayri told AFP. "The security situation is still bad, contrary to what the report said. The people are still isolated from each other because of sectarian strife, especially in Baghdad," he added. He was referring to claims by US commander General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker that violence levels had dropped significantly because of an American troop "surge" in Iraq.
Appearing before the US Congress on Monday, Petraeus said that as a result of the improved security situation, 30,000 troops could be withdrawn by July next year. Mutayri scoffed at the withdrawal timetable outlined by Petraeus, which would see the first batch of Marines return home as early as this month. "Our basic aim is not a timetable but full withdrawal... we will keep demanding that until the last soldier leaves Iraq," he said.
Petraeus's announcement, he added, was merely for "media purposes" and to camouflage the fact that the US administration wants to maintain "the largest possible number of forces in Iraq for strategic purposes." Fiery anti-American cleric Sadr, who has a thousands-strong militia known as the Mahdi Army, has constantly demanded the departure of foreign troops from Iraqi soil since the US-led invasion in March 2003. It launched two uprisings in 2004 but suffered bloody defeats at the hands of US forces in both, although the militia has continued its attacks on foreign troops.
A member of parliament representing Sadr political bloc, Ghufran Saad, told AFP that Petraeus's announcement of possible troop cutbacks was "not fresh news." "Every year they say numbers of troops will leave, but what we see is that their number is in fact increased," Saad said. "The Sadr group did not need to listen to the report to know what they were going to say because we know that the Americans are always trying to impose their mandate on Iraq," she added.
The timetable for withdrawal was "a deception of the Iraqi people because their presence or departure should be determined by the Iraqi government." Sadr's spokesman Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi was sceptical that the withdrawal would happen in the way outlined by Petraeus. "The command of the US forces will not hesitate to keep them in Iraq if the situation changes for a real or fabricated reason," he said.
On August 29, Sadr ordered the Mahdi Army to halt its militia activities, including assaults on US-led forces, for six months after it was widely accused of fomenting violence during a huge pilgrimage in the shrine city of Karbala that left 50 people dead. Attacks on American forces continue, however, with US commanders blaming "rogue" Mahdi Army elements beyond Sadr's control. Najaf, 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of Baghdad where Sadr has his headquarters, is Shiite Islam's holiest pilgrimage city and home to the shrine of Imam Ali.

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