Iraqi Shi'ite cleric calls U.S., Britain and Israel a 'Triad of Evil'

By The Associated Press

In a television interview Friday night, radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr described the United States, Israel and Britain as a "Triad of Evil".

Speaking on state-run Iraqiya television, the anti-American al-Sadr also said last month's attack on a Shi'ite shrine in the central city of Samarra was carried "in collusion with the occupiers and the Zionist Entity of Israel," meaning for the U.S. and Israel. Hundreds of Iraqis died in the subsequent sectarian violence, much of which Sunni Muslims said was the work of al-Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army.

The Triad of Evil reference was an obvious play on words U.S. President Bush used in his 2002 State of the Union address, when he labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea and "axis of evil."

Al-Sadr, whose militia launched two uprisings against U.S. troops in 2004, refused to name any group that he believed was behind the bombing of the Askariyah shrine in Samarra but hinted at members of Saddam Hussein's former regime or Sunni Muslim extremists.

"Those who carry arms could be takfiri extremists, Saddamists or others. But those who control arms are the Triad of Evil that are Israel, America and Britain," said the black-turbaned cleric during the one-hour interview.

The extremist takfiri ideology urges Sunni Muslims to kill anyone they consider an infidel, even fellow Muslims.

He said that the attacks on Sunnis that followed the Samarra explosion "were a natural reaction" by Shiites, angry over the attack on their shrine. He said he rejected any attacks on mosques of either Muslim sect, although violence after the Samarra bombing damaged many.

Al-Sadr, who was on a regional tour when the Feb. 22, bombing happened, cut short his visit and came back "in order for the country not to be pulled to street battles. I wanted to salvage the Iraqi people from these problems."

Speaking about the country's political crisis that erupted in recent days over the Shiite parliamentary bloc's nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to form a new government, al-Sadr said "I don't intervene in such small matters."

Al-Jaafari is strongly supported by al-Sadr, whose followers hold 30 seats in the 275-member parliament. The remainder of the Shiite blocs control 100 more.

"The candidate for prime minister must demand the withdrawal of the occupiers, or put a timetable for their pullout. I don't support any person who does not say that," al-Sadr declared. "What is important is that the occupiers leave because they are behind what is happening in Iraq."

"Putting a timetable on foreign troop withdrawal represents a victory for Iraqis not for terrorists," he said.

The cleric, speaking from the holy city of Najaf, said Saddam Hussein should not be tried but executed immediately. He criticized what he called American intervention in the trial and causing to take too much time.

Saddam was believed to have ordered the 1999 assassination of al-Sadr's father, Mohammed Sadiq, a top Shiite religious leader who spent years in jail under the former Iraqi leader.

"I call for the execution of Saddam," al-Sadr said. "He who did not let judicial authorities work under his rule should not be tried."

"He who shed the blood of Iraqis and Muslims easily, should have his blood shed easily," al-Sadr said.