The powerful Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr says he wants to oust American forces from Iraq. According to a statement issued today, he's prepared to unleash his "guerrilla fighters to concentrate on pushing American forces out of the country."
He also called on the Iraqi army and police to end their working relationship with the U.S. For the past few months, Al-Sadr has been telling his troops to lie low, especially while the U.S. forces were operating in his region. Muqtada al-Sadr now wants Iraqi forces to join the insurgents in the battle against "the occupiers."
The statement, reportedly stamped with al-Sadr's official seal, was distributed in the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Sunday — a day before a large demonstration there, called for by al-Sadr, to mark the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. In it, he said that “God has ordered you to be patient in front of your enemy, and unify your efforts against them – not against the sons of Iraq.”
Reuters reported Sunday afternoon that thousands of Iraqis were streaming to the holy southern city of Najaf on Sunday "in response to a call by... Al-Sadr for a big anti-American protest on Monday."
Al-Sadr's militant group has been likened to the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah, in that they're taking a guns and butter approach in the neighborhoods they control. Besides his military activities, his people are providing basic social services the central government has been unable to accomplish, winning adherents throughout the region.
The situation in Iraq can seemingly change overnight. CBS news reported that the U.S. and Al-Sadr had held talks to reduce violence in the slums of Sadr City. An agreement was not achieved, partly because Al-Sadr's representatives demanded that the U.S. pull out of the neighborhood - a condition which was rejected.