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Cleric 'ready to sacrifice' to drive U.S. from Iraq

Al-Sadr says he's not ruling out any way to end 'occupation'



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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The radical Shiite cleric wanted by U.S.-led forces in Iraq said in a TV interview Tuesday that he is ready to die to end the U.S. "occupation."

Although he said he isn't negotiating with what he called the "occupation forces," Muqtada al-Sadr indicated that intermediaries are doing so and that he is leaving room for compromise.

Al-Sadr was interviewed by al-Manar TV, a Lebanese network run by Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is a militant group based in Lebanon that seeks to establish a fundamentalist Muslim state. It has launched attacks against Israel from Lebanon. Al-Sadr has expressed support for its stance against Israel.

"I am ready to sacrifice [myself] and I call on the [Iraqi] people not to allow my death to cause the collapse of the fight for freedom and an end to the occupation," al-Sadr said.

U.S. commanders have said they want him dead or alive, and U.S.-led forces are trying to crush an uprising in several towns led by the cleric's militia, the Mehdi Army, and others.

Earlier Tuesday, the cleric was seen leaving a mosque in Najaf.

"I don't mind giving my life for this precious and dear country. But my message to the Iraqi people is that my killing shouldn't stop them from pursuing what they want as far as refusing occupation, their independence, and the propagation of Islam and peace around the world," he said in the interview.

"I am not important, I'm just a body, You are a proud and free people that refuses all occupation and all aggression. So, don't use my death as an excuse to stop what pleases God and what propagates Islamic law."

Al-Sadr said that "as far as the threats on my life are concerned," he's used to it.

"Killing, arrests or victory, we're used to this. Whatever God sends is merciful."

Al-Sadr said there are no "direct negotiations" between himself and "the occupation forces."

"Negotiations have been held through groups and parties. I do not negotiate with anyone who kills my people, the people of Iraq."

But he is leaving room for compromise.

"All doors remain open for all possibilities. I won't close any doors, I am willing to open any door that provides the Iraqi people with the mercy they deserve. I am at the disposal of the religious leadership, and I will do whatever it asks of me.


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