By Ria Novosti
An influential Iraqi Shiite cleric said on Saturday that he would call on his followers to resume violence against U.S. soldiers if Washington reneges on its pledge to withdraw troops by the end of the year.
‘If the Americans don’t leave Iraq, we will increase the military resistance and restart the activities of the Mahdi Army,’ cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said in a statement, read by a spokesman to thousands of followers at an anti-U.S. rally in Baghdad.
The rally marked the eighth anniversary of the city’s fall to a U.S.-led coalition force and came after U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates said some soldiers could stay in Iraq for years to come. There are currently almost 50,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
The Mahdi Army was formed in 2003 and took part in major clashes with U.S. forces. It has observed a ceasefire since August 2007, a significant factor in the decline in violence in Iraq.
Al-Sadr lives in Iran where he is engaged in religious studies. During a visit to Iraq in January, he urged his followers to “resist occupiers, including the U.S. and others, by all possible means.”