Stop attacking US troops: Iraq cleric to followers

There are currently about 45,000 US forces in Iraq.

Baghdad: An anti-American cleric 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, Shiite cleric
Muqtada al-Sadr 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

"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," al-Sadr said in the statement, posted late
Saturday. Sadrist lawmaker Mushraq Naji confirmed the
statement today.

However, al-Sadr warned that "if the withdrawal doesn`t
happen... the military operations will be resumed in a new and
tougher way."

The statement followed last week`s notice by US officials
in Baghdad, announcing the start of the withdrawal.
There are currently about 45,000 US forces in Iraq.

However, US and Iraqi leaders are currently weighing
whether some American troops should remain past the December
31 deadline as Baghdad continues to struggle with instability
and burgeoning influence from neighbouring 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.


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