|Moqtada al-Sadr wants US forces to leave on time.|
BAGHDAD - Anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is urging his followers to stop attacking US troops in Iraq so that their withdrawal from the country isn’t slowed down, a call meant to ramp up pressure on Baghdad’s political leaders who are considering asking some American forces to stay.
In a statement posted on his website, the Shi’ite cleric told his militias to halt attacks against US forces till the withdrawal is finished at the end of the year as required under a security agreement between Washington and Baghdad.
“Out of my desire to complete Iraq’s independence and to finish the withdrawal of the occupation forces from our holy lands, I am obliged to halt military operations of the honest Iraqi resistance until the withdrawal of the occupation forces is complete,’’ Sadr said in the statement, posted late Saturday. Sadrist lawmaker Mushraq Naji confirmed the statement yesterday.
However, Sadr warned that “if the withdrawal doesn’t happen . . . the military operations will be resumed in a new and tougher way.’’
Late yesterday, police said a roadside bomb targeting a security patrol killed a passerby and two police in Baghdad’s eastern Shi’ite Shamaayah area. Three more police were among eight others who were wounded, officials said.
Sadr’s statement followed last week’s notice by US officials in Baghdad, announcing the start of the withdrawal.
There are about 45,000 US forces in Iraq. However, US and Iraqi leaders are weighing whether some American troops should remain past the Dec. 31 deadline as Baghdad continues to struggle with instability and burgeoning influence from neighboring Iran.
Last month, Iraqi leaders began negotiating with US officials in Baghdad to keep at least several thousand troops in Iraq to continue training the nation’s shaky security forces.
Officials in Washington say President Obama is willing to keep 3,000 to 10,000 US troops in Iraq. But with fewer than four months before the final deadline, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Parliament still have not indicated how many US troops Iraq might need, how long they would stay, or exactly what they would be doing.
After more than eight years of war, many weary Iraqis are ready to see US troops go, and staunchly defend their national sovereignty against an American force they see as occupiers.