Wed, Dec 05, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Iraqi leaders call for US withdrawal

FOREIGN PRESENCE Moqtada al-Sadr decried a deal between the US president and the Iraqi prime minister as a Shiite party leader called for `complete sovereignty'

AGENCIES , WASHINGTON, BAGHDAD AND NAJAF, IRAQ

An Iraqi man looks on as US soldiers search his house during a patrol at a market area in Baqubah, Iraq, on Monday.

PHOTO: AFP

The radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Monday blasted US President George W. Bush for signing a deal with Baghdad agreeing to a longer-term US military presence in Iraq.

"I say this to the evil Bush -- leave my country," Sadr said in a statement issued by his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

"We do not need you and your army of darkness," he said. "We don't need your planes and tanks. We don't need your policy and your interference. We don't want your democracy and fake freedom. Get out of our land."

Sadr's salvo comes a week after the US president and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced a deal ensuring a long-term presence of US forces in the country.

Bush and Maliki decided to end the UN mandate for foreign troops' presence in Iraq next year and replace it with a bilateral pact between the two countries for a US military presence beyond next year.

The leader of Iraq's biggest Shiite party on Monday said he hoped an expected security agreement with the US would ultimately leave the country free of foreign troops.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who leads the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, described the proposed agreement as part of a larger effort to return Iraq to "complete sovereignty."

"For me, personally, I'm looking forward to seeing Iraq as not having any presence of foreign troops just like all the free people around the world," he said through an interpreter at a forum in Washington hosted by the United States Institute of Peace.

"I don't think that any [free people] will have the desire to see foreign troops on their soil," said Hakim, whose political party is a cornerstone of the Shiite alliance behind Maliki.

There are 166,000 US troops in Iraq, including extra forces sent this year to quell sectarian violence in and around Baghdad as part of Bush's so-called surge strategy.

Meanwhile, troops unearthed a mass grave with the remains of 12 people including a paramedic who disappeared more than a year ago, Iraqi officials said, the latest grisly discovery in a former stronghold of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Morgue workers wearing masks to protect them from the stench of decomposing bodies dug through bags of bones and tattered clothes on Monday as they sought clues to the identities of those killed.

More than 100 bodies, including women and children, have turned up since October in the remote desert terrain surrounding Lake Tharthar, a man-made body of water straddling the predominantly Sunni provinces of Anbar and Salahuddin about 100km northwest of Baghdad.

Most of the victims had no identity documents, but officials have said they were likely abducted and murdered by al-Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgents.

The US military has claimed significant progress since last summer in forcing al-Qaeda in Iraq out of Anbar Province with the help of Sunni tribal leaders and local officials. Iraqis forces have taken advantage of these recent security gains to step up patrols in areas previously considered no-go zones.

But Lake Tharthar, which used to be a resort popular with officials under Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime, has remained one of the hardest areas to control. The newly discovered mass grave was located between the lake and the Anbar city of Fallujah.

Two of the bodies found on Sunday were beheaded, according to an official at Fallujah General Hospital, where the remains were taken. Hospital officials said some appeared to have been killed as recently as four months ago, while others dated to 18 months ago.

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