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Militant cleric issues demands of coalition

Al-Sadr wants Saddam tried, a date occupation ends, followers freed

By Kianne Sadeq
CNN Baghdad Bureau

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Muqtada al-Sadr

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia has been fighting with U.S. troops throughout Iraq, issued demands to the coalition through his deputy on Saturday.

Al-Sadr accuses the coalition of starting the violence, and said the coalition's shutdown of a pro-Sadr newspaper was the catalyst.

Clerical deputy Sheikh Raed al-Kadhim, interviewed by CNN, said the al-Sadr people "have a peaceful position" and al-Sadr is a peaceful man.

Among other points, al-Kadhim said the cleric wants "to get back the voice of Iraq" and to have Saddam Hussein tried in a Supreme Court.

Al-Sadr is also asking for release of all of his followers who have been arrested and for a guaranteed date for withdrawal of occupation forces from Iraq.

Al-Sadr had called on his followers Friday to go on a three-day hunger strike if they choose as a protest to their treatment by the coalition, al-Kadhim said.

"The attacks began by the occupying forces. It all started with the false accusations and the shutdown of the Al Hawza newspaper," al-Kadhim said, referring to Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer's two-month shutdown of the Baghdad newspaper, published by al-Sadr supporters, for inciting violence.

Al-Kadhim said coalition forces "have killed innocent people, women, and children ... and still our position remains one that is trying to be peaceful, but they don't let us."

"The occupying forces have attacked al-Kufa, Najaf, here in Baghdad, and in many other cities, and they are the ones who initiated everyone of those attacks by the orders of (President) Bush and everyone till the last official representative they have here."

Al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia over the last week have been fighting with coalition-led forces in the cleric's bastions of support, among them Sadr City in Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Kut and Nasiriya. U.S. forces are in the process of retaking Kut from Sadr forces, which still have some control in the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala. (Full story)

"We are in the position of defending ourselves against all those who confront us," al-Kadhim said. "What are we supposed to do when the helicopters shoot at us? We say and we advise that all they need to do is to stop what they are doing and this problem will be solved."

Also, the Coalition Provisional Authority said early in the week that an Iraqi judge has issued an arrest warrant for al-Sadr in connection with the 2003 murder of another cleric at a mosque in the city of Najaf. Iraqi police have arrested al-Sadr aide Mustafa al-Yacoubi in connection with the same murder.

But al-Kadhim said al-Sadr is a "symbol" of the Iraqi people and all attacks again him are wrong.

"They still threaten to arrest Sayid Muqtada al-Sadr and make false accusations against him. They say that Sayid Muqtada al-Sadr is representing a minority but I am telling you that Sayid Muqtada has an army of 26 million people and anyone who accuses him or attacks him is attacking and accusing all of the Iraqi people," Al-Kadhim said.

"Muqtada has not ever committed attacks against anybody he has always been a symbol of peace and he always says that he is responsible for the safety of all demonstrations.

Al-Kadhim passed along these demands from al-Sadr.

Referring to the Iraqi people, he said "I demand in your name":

  • "To get back the voice of Iraq and for the previous dictator and have Saddam Hussein tried in a Supreme Court.
  • "For a stop to this terrorism and to release all those of al-Sadr followers who have been arrested. They are not guilty of anything but accepting Allah.
  • "Not to bury the voice of the Iraqi people under the ground of the politicians and the diplomats. You must organize an Iraqi constitutional government away from these occupation forces or any other wing.
  • "To choose who you want and not to let anyone impose on you who your leader is.
  • "The investigation of the crimes of the occupation forces and bring justice to those who have committed the crimes.
  • "A guaranteed date of departure of the occupying forces.
  • Al-Sadr is the son of Shiite imam Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr, a prominent leader assassinated in 1999. The Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad is named after the father.

    "What made us all follow his father and sacrifice our families and our children is because here was a person who was genuine and honest with all goodness. We follow his son," al-Kadhim said.

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