Tue, Jul 06, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Al-Sadr comes out again Allawi

ABOUT-TURNThe radical Shiite leader had seemed supportive of the new government in Baghdad but his change of mind may have bloody consequences

AP , BAGHDAD, IRAQ

The militant Shiite cleric whose uprising in April left hundreds dead pledged to resist "oppression and occupation" and called the interim Iraqi government "illegitimate."

Muqtada al-Sadr made the declaration Sunday in a statement distributed by his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, where his al-Mahdi militia battled US troops until a ceasefire last month.

"We pledge to the Iraqi people and the world to continue resisting oppression and occupation to our last drop of blood," al-Sadr said. "Resistance is a legitimate right and not a crime to be punished."

Previously, Al-Sadr had made conciliatory statements to the new government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a fellow Shiite, and members of his movement had suggested they might transform the al-Mahdi Army into a political party. Also, Al-Mahdi fighters accepted cease-fires in most Shiite areas after suffering huge losses at the hands of the Americans.

However, in his statement Sunday, the young cleric said, "There is no truce with the occupier and those who cooperate with it."

"We announce that the current government is illegitimate and illegal," al-Sadr said. "It's generally following the occupation. We demand complete sovereignty and independence by holding honest elections."

But Sadr's spokesman in Baghdad then called a hasty news conference yesterday to say that Sadr's statement was not a call to arms. He said many of al-Sadr's supporters in Baghdad had begun taking up arms again and he needed to correct their misperceptions.

It was unclear what prompted the double reversal, though al-Sadr has made contradictory statements in the past.

Earlier Sunday, Allawi told the US' ABC television that he had met with al-Sadr representatives "who want to try and mediate."

Allawi said: "There is no room for any militias to operate inside Iraq. Anything outside law and order is not tolerated, cannot be tolerated. The rule of law should prevail. Every one of us, every individual, starting from the president downward should be answerable to the law."

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