[DEBATE] : Sadr Calls for Weekly Protests against US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement
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Wed May 28 09:22:37 BST 2008
Militant cleric urges protests on US-Iraq deal
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA – 13 hours ago
BAGHDAD (AP) — Militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called Tuesday
for followers to hold weekly protests against a U.S.-Iraqi security
deal under negotiation that could lead to a long-term American troop
The outcry by al-Sadr could sharply heighten tensions over the
proposed pact, which is supposed to be finished by July to replace the
current U.N. mandate overseeing U.S.-led troops in Iraq.
Al-Sadr — whose powerful Mahdi Army militia has often battled U.S. and
Iraqi forces — is one of the most vocal opponents of the U.S. presence
in Iraq, but many Iraqis have expressed worries over any final deal
that involves permanent American bases.
Al-Sadr, who is believed to be in Iran, did not give specific guidance
on the planned demonstrations in a statement issued by top Shiite
religious officials. Any major marches, however, could put added
strain on a tenuous truce between the Mahdi Army and the government of
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after weeks of battles that began in
In northern Iraq, meanwhile, a car bomb exploded near a popular market
in Tal Afar, killing four civilians and wounding 46 others, said the
city's mayor, Maj. Gen. Najim Abdullah.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. It came hours after an
al-Qaida in Iraq front group warned that insurgents would retaliate
against U.S. and Iraqi forces, which began a crackdown nearly two
weeks ago in the main northern city of Mosul, 40 miles east of Tal
A man claiming to be a spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq in
Ninevah province, which includes Mosul, said in a videotape posted
online that insurgents were at "full strength" despite the Mosul
sweeps and were just waiting for the proper time to counterattack.
"We are the ones who control the hour to start the initiative and we
will choose the time for retaliation or engagement," said the
unidentified spokesman, whose face was covered. The Islamic State of
Iraq is a coalition of insurgent groups lead by al-Qaida in Iraq.
There was no way to authenticate the comments. But the video bore the
logo of al-Furqan, one of al-Qaida's media production wings, and was
posted on a number of Islamic Web sites that usually carry militant
Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, has been dubbed by the U.S.
military as al-Qaida's last major urban stronghold in Iraq.
Officials have claimed initial success in the crackdown, saying more
than 1,200 suspects have been detained. Iraqi security forces also
have met with little resistance — though there have some attacks,
including a shooting near a Mosul police station that killed one
policeman Tuesday, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen.
On the political front, al-Maliki convened a meeting with Iraq's
president, the two vice presidents and other political leaders late
Monday to discuss the ongoing negotiations with the U.S. over a
The prime minister said the decision "should shared by all political
powers in the country," said Nasser al-Ani, a spokesman for the
presidential council. He said the delegates agreed to continue the
Details of the terms under negotiation are not known. Al-Maliki has
said the agreement will provide for U.S. security help to protect
Iraq, and most Iraqi leaders have said they support some form of
continued American role. But the numbers of American troops and the
rules of conduct in Iraq remain highly controversial.
Al-Sadr's statement urged Iraqis across the country to hold
demonstrations every week after Friday prayers "until further notice
or until the agreement is canceled." He urged politicians from all
factions to work against the agreement.
He also demanded that any agreement reached with the Americans be put
to a popular referendum. He vowed to gather 1 million signatures
rejecting the deal.
In the capital, al-Maliki and a host of political and religious
figures inaugurated a rebuilt bridge linking east and west Baghdad
that was destroyed more than a year ago by a suicide truck bomber. The
April 2007 bombing sent sections of the al-Sarafiyah bridge plunging
into the Tigris, killing at least 10 people.
The U.S. military said an American soldier was killed and two others
were wounded Sunday in a roadside bombing in a mostly Shiite area 110
miles south of Baghdad.
In Stockholm, Sweden, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt urged the
United States and European countries to admit more Iraqi refugees.
Sweden, which opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, has received
about 40,000 Iraqis since 2003. The United States admitted just over
1,600 Iraqi refugees in the 2007 fiscal year which ended Sept. 30, but
the Bush administration seeks to bring in 12,000 Iraqi refugees by the
end of September this year.
The pace, however, has been slow and suggests Washington could fall
far short of the goal unless the refugee flow is sharply increased.
Reinfeldt is hosting a conference Thursday on Iraqi development. Among
those scheduled to attend include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Iraqi prime minister.
Associated Press writers Hamid Ahmed in Baghdad and Maamoun Youssef in
Cairo, Egypt, contributed to this report.
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