Al-Sadr calls for US pull-out, deal with Sunnis


Baghdad : Shia cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr called Friday for the pull-out of US troops from Iraq, as he announced his readiness to "cooperate" with Sunnis.

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In his first appearance in months, Al-Sadr accused the US of "disuniting" Iraqis, while he was surrounded by his followers in Kufa mosque in Najaf, 180 km south of Baghdad.

The 33-year-old cleric renewed his request for the setting of a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

Al-Sadr told a Shia gathering of worshippers during the sermon following Friday prayers that internal fighting between Iraqi factions was "religiously prohibited".

"Every now and then we hear about a clash between the brothers from the Mahdi Army and those from the Iraqi police," he said.

He accused "the occupier" of "disuniting Iraqi Sunnis and Shias to weaken the Iraqi people" and he addressed Sunnis saying he was ready "to cooperate" with them "on all levels".

Since February, there have been conflicting claims over the whereabouts of al-Sadr. Some reports had said he was still in Najaf, while others said he had left for Iran.

Samy al-Askari, an advisor to Premier Nuri al-Maliki, said on Feb 15 that al-Sadr was in Tehran but was soon due to return to Iraq, but the Sadr movement denied that its leader was in the Iranian capital.

The denials came amid other claims by the movement that the reports about al-Sadr being in Tehran were an attempt by the US military, using rumours, to lure him from his hideout.

The al-Sadr movement has recently engaged in political disputes with al-Maliki's government due to his refusal to set a timetable for foreign withdrawal from Iraq.

The movement, accordingly, pulled out its six ministers from the government.

The Sadr movement has 30 seats in the 275-seat Iraqi parliament. Under the umbrella of the movement is the so-called Mahdi Army, the largest armed militia in Iraq.