- The Washington Times - Friday, June 11, 2004

BAGHDAD — A prominent Sunni Muslim cleric yesterday condemned the presence of foreign troops and called on Iraqis to provide their own security.

“We don’t want our country to be run by foreigners,” Imam Muad al-Adhamy told hundreds of worshippers at the tiled Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad.

He denounced interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, both of whom have said that U.S. and other foreign troops were necessary.

“Why do we need a multinational force? Why ask for outside help when your country has an army of brave sons,” he told worshipers in the middle-class Adhamiyah neighborhood.

The imam called on Iraq’s scientists, military and politicians to take back their nation and develop an economy so vital that Iraq will never need to import a single car.

The sermon by a mainstream cleric at a landmark mosque in the capital underscored the discontent many Iraqis feel toward the new government, composed mainly of countrymen whom few people know because they spent years, even decades, in exile.

At the same time Imam al-Adhamy was preaching self-sufficiency, supporters of renegade Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr tangled with U.S. forces and Iraqi police in Baghdad and Najaf.

In Sadr City, the restive Shi’ite neighborhood where more than half of Baghdad’s 5 million people live, fighters loyal to Sheik al-Sadr fired automatic weapons and tossed grenades at American troops. At least one Iraqi died.

In Yusufiyah, a town about 12 miles south of Baghdad, masked gunmen overran a police station and blew it up — the fourth such attack against Iraqi security installations in less than a week.

After the outgunned police fled from a side door, the attackers entered the building, rigged it with explosives and blew it up, police Lt. Sattar Abdul-Reda told the Associated Press.

On June 5, gunmen blew up a police station in Musayyib after killing seven policemen. The next day, gunmen blew up a police station in Sadr City after ordering policemen to leave. On Thursday, gunmen ransacked a police station in the holy city of Najaf after a 10-hour gunbattle.

Sheik al-Sadr struck a conciliatory tone toward the new government yesterday. In a sermon read by an aide to a congregation in the southern city of Kufa, he offered tentative support and encouraged the new Iraqi leadership to do all it can to end the U.S. military presence in the country.

The U.S. command said one American soldier died of wounds suffered in an ambush in eastern Baghdad two days earlier.

Also in Najaf yesterday, Sheik al-Sadr’s militia, known as the Mahdi’s Army, blocked the road to the Imam Ali shrine, halting hundreds of worshippers on their way to morning prayers and provoking fistfights and stone throwing between the groups.

Senior U.S. military officials said that, with the June 30 turnover fast approaching, they are focusing their strategy on training Iraqi soldiers and police, not fighting the insurgency.

Said one elderly female worshipper at the Abu Hanifa Mosque: “The Americans aren’t going to leave, and then there will be a multinational force. That means we’ll be occupied by even more countries.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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