- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

BAGHDAD — The radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr issued a scathing attack on the United States yesterday, following one of the country’s bloodiest days, blaming Washington for Iraq’s troubles and calling for a mass demonstration April 9 — the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

As Sheik al-Sadr’s remarks were read in a mosque, Shi’ites in Baghdad loaded wooden coffins into vans and shoveled broken glass and other debris into wheelbarrows in the aftermath of a double suicide bombing at a marketplace. At least 181 persons were found dead Thursday as Sunni insurgents apparently stepped up their campaign of bombings to derail the seven-week-old security sweep in Baghdad.

Sheik al-Sadr’s statement was his first since March 14, when he urged his supporters to resist U.S. forces in Iraq through peaceful means. Sheik Al-Sadr has been said by U.S. and Iraqi officials to be in neighboring Iran, but his aides insist he is still in Iraq.

The latest statement was read to worshippers during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kufa, a Shi’ite holy city south of Baghdad where Sheik al-Sadr frequently led the ritual.

“I renew my call for the occupier [the United States] to leave our land,” he said. “The departure of the occupier will mean stability for Iraq, victory for Islam and peace and defeat for terrorism and infidels.”

Sheik al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militiamen fought U.S. troops in 2004 but have generally cooperated with an ongoing U.S.-Iraqi security push in Baghdad, blamed the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq for the rising violence, lack of services and sectarian bloodshed.

Also yesterday, coalition forces detained a suspect who the U.S. military said was linked to networks bringing sophisticated roadside bombs into Iraq.

The suspect, who was detained during a raid in the Shi’ite militia stronghold of Sadr City — the radical cleric’s stronghold — was thought to be tied to networks bringing the weapons known as explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs, into Iraq, the military said.

It did not identify the suspect or the groups he was accused of having ties to, but the U.S. military has asserted in recent months that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force have been providing Shi’ite militias with weapons and parts for sophisticated armor-piercing bombs.

Iraqi and other officials told The Washington Times this week that Shi’ite militiamen who melted away from Baghdad when U.S. and Iraqi troops began their security crackdown are rolling back into the city with fresh Iranian training. It is not clear whether Sheik al-Sadr is in control of the group, which some Iraqis describe as a “secret army” trained and equipped by Iran.

In other developments yesterday, the U.S. military said a soldier was killed and another wounded Thursday during a patrol in southern Baghdad.

Local officials in Baghdad said U.S. air strikes targeting a Shi’ite militant base on the city’s eastern outskirts killed 20 suspected fighters and wounded 14 militants, along with seven civilians in neighboring houses. The U.S. military said it was looking into the report.

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