Saturday, March 31, 2007

Muqtada al-Sadr calling for a mass demonstration April 9

BAGHDAD (AP) - The radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr issued a scathing attack on the United States on Friday, following one of the country's bloodiest days, blaming Washington for Iraq's troubles and calling for a mass demonstration April 9 - the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

As al-Sadr's remarks were read in a mosque, Shiites in Baghdad loaded wooden coffins into vans and shoveled broken glass and other debris into wheelbarrows in the aftermath of a double suicide bombing at a marketplace. At least 181 people were killed or found dead Thursday as Sunni insurgents apparently stepped up their campaign of bombings to derail the seven-week-old security sweep in Baghdad.

Violence has increasingly erupted outside the capital in recent weeks, as insurgent fighters take their fight to regions where U.S. and Iraqi forces are thinly deployed.

``There is a race between the government and the terrorists who are trying to make people reach the level of despair,'' said Sami al-Askari, an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. ``But the government is doing its best to defeat terrorists and it definitely will not be affected by these bombings.''

The U.S. military and its diplomats have voiced cautious optimism about the sweep that began Feb. 14 and emphasized that the full American surge force would not be in place until June.

But sectarian tensions also were heightened earlier this week by a devastating bombing followed by a shooting rampage by Shiite militiamen and police seeking revenge in Tal Afar.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, said the carnage showed al-Qaida was continuing to display ``their total disregard for human life, carrying out barbaric actions against innocent Iraqi citizens in an effort to reignite sectarian violence and to undermine recent Iraqi and coalition successes in improving security in Baghdad.''

Al-Sadr's statement was his first since March 14, when he urged his supporters to resist U.S. forces in Iraq through peaceful means. Al-Sadr has been said by U.S. and Iraqi officials to be in neighboring Iran, but his aides insist he is still in Iraq.

The latest statement was read to worshippers during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kufa, a Shiite holy city south of Baghdad where al-Sadr frequently led the ritual.

``I renew my call for the occupier (the United States) to leave our land,'' he said in the statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. ``The departure of the occupier will mean stability for Iraq, victory for Islam and peace and defeat for terrorism and infidels.'' .......

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