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16 Apr 2004 14:58
Wanted Shiite Muslim radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr said on Friday a compromise with the United States-led coalition “will not work” and he was prepared to die as a “martyr” fighting the occupation forces.
“We will not allow the forces of occupation to enter Najaf and the holy sites because they are forbidden places for them,” said al-Sadr in a fiery sermon at the grand mosque of Kufa, in his first public appearance in two weeks.
“I say that they are here to stay and will occupy us for many years and as such compromise will not work.”
Sadr, who is wanted in connection with the murder of a rival cleric last year, said “it is those that attacked civilians in Fallujah and innocent protesters that must be put on trial”.
The firebrand cleric said he was waging “the revolution of the Imam Mehdi”, the 12th Imam of the Shiite Muslims and their believed saviour.
“It is martyrdom that I am yearning for, so support me and know that this a war on Shiites,” said al-Sadr, who has surrounded himself with thousands of armed fighters while US forces marshall outside the holy city.
US commanders have said their mission is to capture or kill al-Sadr but they insist they are ready to let all diplomatic options, including an ongoing effort from a senior Iranian delegation, run their course.
Al-Sadr had harsh words for the Shiites on the US-appointed governing council who have been trying to mediate a peaceful solution to the crisis.
“I address the agents of the West ... they say that we are delaying the handover of power and the formation of government, but I tell them that we have delayed selling Iraq and creating a government of agents,” he said.
Al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia have battled coalition troops in a bloody uprising across central and southern Iraq over the past two weeks, raising fears of a broader uprising among the country’s Shiite majority.
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said al-Sadr’s rebellion was waning and the “situation in the south at this time is largely stabilised”.
“[Al-]Sadr’s bid to foment a popular uprising is failing,” Rumsfeld said as Washington announced plans to extend the deployment of 20 000 troops in Iraq.—Sapa-AFP
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