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Sadr Backs Down From Call for Violence

The spokesman for militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search) tempered threats to continue fighting Monday, saying his movement only planned to wage "peaceful resistance" against the interim government.

Al-Sadr issued a statement Sunday from his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf (search) calling the new interim Iraqi government "illegitimate" and pledging "to continue resisting oppression and occupation to our last drop of blood."

But Sadr's spokesman in Baghdad, Mahmoud al-Soudani (search), called a news conference Monday to clarify that the statement was not a call to arms. He said that many of al-Sadr's supporters in Baghdad had begun taking up arms again and he needed to correct their misperceptions.

"We are still committed to the cease-fire," al-Soudani said.

Before Sunday, al-Sadr had made conciliatory statements to the government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (search), a fellow Shiite, and members of his movement had suggested they might transform his al-Mahdi militia into a political party.

Al-Sadr has made contradictory statements in the past.

His al-Mahdi militia battled American troops for nearly eight weeks leaving hundreds of people dead in the Shiite heartland until a cease-fire was reached last month.

Sadr said Sunday that "there is no truce with the occupier and those who cooperate with it."

Al-Mahdi fighters accepted cease-fires in most Shiite areas including the Baghdad district of Sadr City after suffering huge losses at the hands of the Americans.

But al-Soudani said the militia can only be disbanded with the approval of its religious leaders or if all foreign troops leave the country.

Allawi had announced that all militias should disband by the end of 2005

Al-Soudani did reiterate Sadr's statement that "the interim government is illegitimate."

Although Iraq regained sovereignty last Monday, about 160,000 foreign troops, most of them Americans, remain here under a U.N. resolution to help the new government restore security.

"Our peaceful resistance will continue as long as occupation troops are in Iraq. It started when the occupation came, and will only end when the last foreign soldier leaves," he said.