Sadr fo­ments re­sis­tance by Iraqis

CLERIC ROUSES ANTI-U.S. VIEW Af­ter 4-year ab­sence, he re­turns to pub­lic stage

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY AARON C. DAVIS the coun­try Wed­nes­day. davisa@wash­post.com

na­jaf, iraq— In an ap­pear­ance that was part ser­mon and part po­lit­i­cal stump speech, Shi­ite cler­icMo­q­tada al-Sadr elec­tri­fied a crowd of thou­sands here Satur­day, stir­ring the well of an­tiAmer­i­can­ism that first pro­pelled him to promi­nence dur­ing the Iraq war.

The event marked the cleric’s

full reemer­gence in Iraq af­ter about four years of self-im­posed ex­ile in Iran. Sadr said he thanked God that in that time his fol­low­ers had con­tin­ued to chalk up “vic­to­ries,” in­clud­ing be­ing able to co­a­lesce as a po­lit­i­cal party with a say in Iraq’s fu­ture.

But Sadr— who re­cently threw his sup­port be­hind Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki, po­si­tion­ing him to win a sec­ond term — also sought to re-cen­ter his cause as still mainly one of re­sis­tance. His fol­low­ers, he said, must con­tinue to fo­cus on fiercely re­sist­ing the United States, but per­haps also tar­get­ing their own govern­ment if it can­not re­store ser­vices or se­cu­rity and hold to a time­line for a full U.S. mil­i­tary with­drawal by the end of 2011.

“We say to the Iraq govern­ment: Enough oc­cu­pa­tion and enough slav­ery,” Sadr said. “We heard that the govern­ment has pledged to get the oc­cu­pa­tion out, and we are wait­ing for its prom­ise.”

Sadr said ev­ery coun­try in the world has been trou­bled by Iraq’s many years of hard­ship, ex­cept “our joint en­emy: Amer­ica, Is­rael and Bri­tain.” He then launched the crowd into the first of nearly a dozen in­creas­ingly bois­ter­ous chants of “No, no Amer­ica!”

De­spite the clar­ity of the mantra, Sadr also spoke in near rid­dles, leav­ing as­many ques­tions as an­swers about how much he was ask­ing of his fol­low­ers, who have a his­tory of bloody bat­tles with U.S. forces.

“We don’t kill Iraqis,” Sadr said. “We tar­get the oc­cu­piers only.” He said his fol­low­ers should use “mil­i­tary and ed­u­ca­tional re­sis­tance,” but added a moment later: “But re­sis­tance means re­sis­tance, it doesn’t mean any­one can carry a weapon. Weapon is for the peo­ple of weapons only.”

Ara­bic me­dia, which largely de­scribed the speech as peace­ful, de­bated the in­tent of that last com­ment. Did he mean that a weapon can be used against a for­eign sol­dier who is armed? Or did he mean that only those per­mit­ted to carry weapons are al­lowed to use them?

Re­gard­less, the re­marks were bound to heighten con­cern for about 48,000 re­main­ing U.S. ser­vice mem­bers in Iraq. And Sadr’s hard line on Amer­i­cans leav­ing at the end of the year raised ques­tions about whether he would re­sist an an­tic­i­pated long-term U.S. diplo­matic pres­ence here.

Sadr de­nounced vi­o­lence against fel­low Iraqis, sin­gling out a string of re­cent as­sas­si­na­tions of po­lice and govern­ment of­fi­cials and tar­geted bomb­ings of Chris­tians.

“Any con­flicts be­tween the broth­ers, let us for­get that page and leave it for­ever,” he said.

The speech caused no ma­jor prob­lems in Na­jaf, where heavy se­cu­rity blan­keted the city ahead of the event. Else­where in Iraq, at least four other peo­ple died Satur­day in bomb­ings and a gun at­tack.

Al­though he was calm dur­ing his ap­pear­ance, even jok­ing oc­ca­sion­ally with the au­di­ence, Sadr left the stage abruptly af­ter less than 30 min­utes. Sadrist cleric Hazim al-Araji said the crowd had be­come too loud for the cleric to con­tinue. Sadr had ear­lier is­sued notes chastis­ing his fol­low­ers for not be­ing more rev­er­ent in his pres­ence since he ar­rived in Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dents Aziz Al­wan, Ali Qeis and Saad Sarhan con­trib­uted to this re­port.

AARON C. DAVIS/THE WASHINGTON POST

Many in Na­jaf who came to hear Shi­ite cler­icMo­q­tada al-Sadr, back from self-im­posed ex­ile, were over­come with emo­tion.

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