BAGHDAD – A powerful anti-American Shiite cleric called Tuesday on U.S. troops in Iraq to leave the country and go back to their families or risk more attacks.
Muqtada al-Sadr's comments came in a rare statement translated into English and directed at U.S. troops in Iraq. The statement was posted on his website.
In it, the Shiite cleric appealed directly to the roughly 46,000 U.S. troops still in the country and said Iraq does not need their help.
"So, go forth from our holy land and go back to your families who are waiting for you impatiently," al-Sadr said. The comment appeared to be a nod to the unpopularity of the Iraq war in the U.S. where many people are frustrated with the length of the war and the heavy burden it has put on American troops.
Iraqi officials are mulling whether to keep some U.S. troops past their December departure date. But they're worried about a potential backlash if the U.S. military remains in the country.
Al-Sadr and his militia members have vowed to assault any American force that remains and have already been attacking American troops with rockets and bombs.
Al-Sadr added that Iraqi security forces are able to handle the country's security challenges without the help of U.S. troops or trainers.
"Enough of this occupation, terror and abuse. We are not in need of your help. We are able to combat and defeat terrorism, and achieve unity," he said. "We are not in need of your bases, your experience."
While the security situation in Iraq has improved over the past few years, attacks are still commonplace. In June alone, 14 U.S. soldiers were killed in combat, making it the bloodiest month for the U.S. military in Iraq in two years. Nearly all of them were killed in attacks by Shiite militias, like those headed by al-Sadr, who are bent on forcing out American troops and portraying themselves as driving out the "occupier."