Shiite cleric vows to fight on in Najaf

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr today said that his Shiite militia will carry on battling US forces in Najaf until Iraq has been liberated from foreign troops.

The rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr today said that his Shiite militia will carry on battling US forces in Najaf until Iraq has been liberated from foreign troops.

"I will continue fighting," al-Sadr told reporters in his first public appearance since violent clashes began last week,. "I will remain in Najaf city until the last drop of my blood has been spilled."

Al-Sadr spoke as the devastating fighting between his Mahdi Army militia and US and Iraqi forces persisted for a fifth day.

Government officials had said many of those involved in the Najaf violence were criminals and implied they were not true acolytes of the popular Shiite firebrand. But al-Sadr said the militants were his followers and described them as volunteers fighting for an honorable cause.

"These are honest attacks against the occupation." he said, referring to the US troop presence in the country. "They ... are coming to resist the occupation, to liberate our country."

On Monday, explosions and gunfire were heard throughout the city and US helicopters hovered overhead in renewed fighting.

The violence in Najaf today killed three people, including two policemen, and injured 19 others, said Hussein Hadi, of Najaf's al-Hakim hospital said. Casualty figures for the militants, who have their own health system, were not available.

The fighting began Thursday with the collapse of a series of truces that ended a two-month Shiite uprising in early June. Al-Sadr said he would continue fighting against the US forces and ruled out new truce talks, though his aides have repeatedly called for a new cease-fire.

"Resistance will continue and increase day by day," he said. "Our demand is for the American occupation to get out of Iraq. We want an independent, democratic, free country."

He also accused the US forces of attacking near revered Shiite holy places in the city. The US military has accused Mahdi Army militants of taking refuge at the Imam Ali Shrine and of using the city's sprawling cemetery to store weapons and stage attacks.

Much of the clashes have centered on the cemetery, as US forces tried to root out the militants, often with attack helicopters.

"We cannot conduct negotiations under shelling," al-Sadr said. "The Americans are shelling the most holy place here in Najaf and they want me to negotiate? This is ridiculous."

Comments