- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

In a surprise visit to Baghdad today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared to question the manhood of anti-American cleric Muqtada al Sadr by suggesting he was sitting safely in Iran while threatening to unleash all out war.

Sheik al Sadr, reportedly in Iran studying to be an ayatollah, on Saturday gave what he called a “final warning” to stop the Iraqi-U.S. offensive against his Mahdi Army milita face all out war.

“I guess it’s all-out war for anybody but him,” Miss Rice said today when asked about the angry young sheik’s latest threat. Miss Rice noted the Sheik al Sadr issued his warning “while he sits in Iran,” according to an Associated Press dispatch from Baghdad.

A seven-month truce by Sheik al Sadr, a Shi’ite, has been a key factor in reducing violence during the U.S. troop surge, as has a decision by rival Sunni sheiks to join U.S. troops in fighting foreign al Qaeda militants.

The Iraqi Army continued yesterday to battle Shi’ite militias in Basra, the largest being the sheik’s Mahdi Army.

Unlike past battles in the south, U.S. and British participation has been limited to providing cover, mainly from the air.

The AP quoted U.S. officials as saying that 40 Shi’ite militants were killed today as fierce fighting continued in southern Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki again refused to back down from his demand that the Mahdi Army be disbanded.

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