Iraq's cleric al-Sadr condemns Rice's visit, urges end of assault

Other News Materials 21 April 2008 13:19 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Iraq's radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr issued a hand-written statement Monday to condemn a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and renew his call for an end to a government offensive against his followers.

"We call on the Iraqi government to prevent the entry of the terrorist occupiers in our land," al-Sadr said in the statement.

Rice made a surprise visit to Baghdad Sunday, a day after al-Sadr issue a "final warning" for the Iraqi government to halt its operations against his followers or he would unleash his forces against US and Iraqi troops "until liberation."

In his latest statement, al-Sadr condemned acts by Iraqi troops backed by "occupying forces" against his loyalists in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

He urged the government, which launched an offensive on militias in Basra and other southern cities on March 25, to hand over bodies of fighters of his Mahdi Army.

The cleric, who is believed to be in Iran, urged Iraqi parliament to denounce "massacres" committed by Iraqi government troops and put an end to them.

Al-Sadr's followers have been killed by government troops "in the most atrocious way" and then burnt, according to the statement.

The bodies have not been turned in for burial, al-Sadr said.

The statement urged people to condemn those acts through the media and mosques for 40 days and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Fighting in Nasiriyah erupted Friday night between Mahdi Army fighters and Iraqi troops and left at least 30 people dead and 34 injured.