View Full Version : US General Says He's Ready To Go To War With Iraqi Cleric

04-20-2008, 02:27 PM
US general says he's ready to go to war with Iraqi cleric


Agence France-Presse
Published: Sunday April 20, 2008

A top US general on Sunday warned that the military would strike back after hardline Iraqi Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to launch a new uprising by his militia.

"I hope Moqtada al-Sadr continues to depress violence and not encourage it," said Major General Rick Lynch, commander of US forces in central Iraq.

Lynch, whose area of control includes the Shiite provinces of Babil, Wasit, Karbala and Najaf, said his forces were ready to take on Sadr and his feared Mahdi Army militia if they choose to fight Iraqi and American forces.

"If Sadr and Jaish al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army) become very aggressive, we've got enough combat power to take the fight to the enemy," Lynch told a group of reporters from Western news networks.

Sadr, who has suspended the activities of his Mahdi Army militia since last August, threatened on Saturday to declare "open war" if a crackdown by Iraqi and US forces against his militiamen is not halted.

"I am giving my last warning and my word to the Iraqi government to take the path of peace and stop violence against its own people, otherwise it will be a government of destruction," he said in a statement issued by his office in the holy city of Najaf.

"If it does not stop the militias that have infiltrated the government, then we will declare a war until liberation."

Sadr also lashed out at the Iraqi government's alliance with the US military.

"The occupation has made us the target of its planes, tanks, air strikes and snipers. Without our support this government would not have been formed. But with its alliance with the occupier it is not independent and sovereign as we would like it to be," he said.

Soon after he made his statement, loudspeakers at mosques in Sadr's Baghdad bastion Sadr City blared out a call to arms and urged residents to "fight the occupiers."

Sadr launched two bloody uprisings from Najaf against US forces in 2004 in which hundreds of his militiamen were killed.

His fighters have been the target of attack by Iraqi and US forces since March 25 when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered his security forces to launch assaults on Shiite militiamen in the southern city of Basra.

The battles spread to other Shiite areas, including Wasit province, under Lynch's command, and Sadr City where they are still raging and where US forces have joined the fight.

Hundreds of people have been killed and scores wounded in the crackdown.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a surprise visit to Baghdad's Green Zone on Sunday gave a cautious response to latest developments.

"It's been very difficult to get a read of what his motivations are and what his intentions are," Rice told reporters before heading into talks with Maliki.

Iraqi security and medical officials said eight people were killed in fresh clashes in Sadr City overnight, while the US military said five people with weapons were killed in American air strikes and another two people were shot dead after reportedly opening fire on US forces.

Meanwhile witnesses reported many people leaving the area in a fresh exodus sparked by the fighting.

"The ball is now in the government's court," Salah al-Obeidi, spokesman for the Sadr movement, told AFP on Sunday.

"We won't accept any further procrastination, false promises and political hypocrisy," Obeidi said. "If the government continues on its course, Sadr alone will decide the next steps."

The government has not immediately reacted to Sadr's warnings, but acting Justice Minister Safa al-Safi said all arrests in Basra and in Baghdad are being carried out "in accordance with court orders."

"Investigations related to those detained in Basra are legal and in accordance with human rights regulations," the minister said in a statement.

"The security operations in Basra and other cities are an attempt to restore the sovereignty of the state and to impose the law."