Anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr called on followers not to launch attacks on U.S. troops who are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of the year, but warned that the violence would resume if they were not gone.
Sadr’s statement comes as U.S. and Iraqi officials are considering a plan to keep a small number of American troops in the country. More than 40,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, but under an agreement between Iraq and the Bush administration in 2008, virtually all should leave by the end of 2011.
U.S. and some Iraqi officials are worried that the country still is not stable enough and Iraqi security forces still are not strong enough to keep militant organizations and sectarian tensions in check without U.S. help.
U.S. officials said last week that the Obama administration was weighing a plan under which about 3,000 troops would remain. More ambitious Pentagon options proposed leaving 10,000 or more.
In a statement on his website late Saturday, Sadr said that “to ensure the completion of Iraq independence and the withdrawal of the invading troops from our holy lands, it becomes obligatory upon me to cease the military operations of the honorable Iraqi resistance until the withdrawal of the invading troops is completed.”
“If the withdrawal is not completed and Iraq remains unstable … military operations will be resumed with greater vigor,” the Shiite cleric said.
The Promised Day Brigade, the military wing of the Sadr movement, has fired rockets at times at U.S. military bases and Baghdad’s Green Zone, home to embassies and the Iraqi government.
Fifteen Americans were killed in June, the highest monthly toll in two years. But August was the first month since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 in which no Americans died in combat in Iraq.
Salman is a special correspondent