Iraq Shi'ite cleric steps up call to evict US forces

Radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr issued a fresh call on Friday for United States troops to withdraw from Iraq, saying there would be no sectarian violence after foreign forces quit the country.

His followers set fire to a large Pokemon doll decked in small US flags after Friday prayers in Baghdad’s sprawling Sadr City quarter, a bastion of the cleric, where two million people live.

The faithful torched American and Israeli flags and danced around the flames while waving an Iraqi flag and chanting slogans denouncing the occupying foreign forces.

Al-Sadr’s representative, Sheikh Sattar al-Battat, leading the first Friday prayers after the end of Ramadan, said his leader wanted the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to get the Americans out quickly.

“I ask the government to end the occupation,” Battat said, quoting a message from Sadr, who is reportedly based in the Iranian city of Qom. “The government must send out the US troops and free all Iraqi prisoners held by them.”

He said there will be no sectarian violence between the majority Shi’ites and the Sunnis after Iraqi sovereignty was restored with the withdrawal of all “occupying forces.”

In August, al-Sadr ordered a halt to armed operations by his 60 000-strong Mehdi Army militia, blamed by Washington for some of the worst sectarian killings of Sunni Arabs in the war-torn country.

Heavy fighting in March and April between his fighters and security forces in Baghdad and the south had left hundreds killed. However, Iraqi forces and al-Sadr’s faction entered into a truce in May to end the firefights.—AFP

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