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al-Sadr says out of Iraq NOW!

BAGHDAD – Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Friday renewed threats to resume attacks on U.S. forces if they don't leave Iraq, deepening the unease over a proposed U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that would allow American troops to stay for three more years.

The threat came in a statement by the Iran-based cleric that was read to supporters gathered for Friday prayers in Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City enclave and the city of Kufa, south of Baghdad.

"I repeat my call on the occupier to get out from the land of our beloved Iraq, without retaining bases or signing agreements," al-Sadr said. "If they do stay, I urge the honorable resistance fighters ... to direct their weapons exclusively against the occupier."

The statement did not say exactly when and under what conditions such attacks might resume.

Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia launched two uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004 and another one this past spring. In July, al-Sadr said he was disbanding most of the militia, but would keep a small combat unit of seasoned and loyal fighters in case they are called upon to fight the Americans again.

In Friday's statement, al-Sadr for the first time gave that unit a name: "The Promised Day Brigade."

He also called on breakaway groups from his militia to join the brigade. He was apparently referring to so-called "special groups," which the U.S. military says are trained and armed by Iran to attack Americans.

Al-Sadr opposes the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement under which American troops would stay in Iraq until the end of 2011. The pact has yet to be approved by Iraq's Cabinet and parliament.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government has sought amendments to the draft agreement to satisfy critics who claim the text does not give strong enough guarantees to safeguard the country's sovereignty and force the Americans to leave by Dec. 31, 2011.

Al-Sadr's statement also called on supporters to gather next week for prayers in a central Baghdad square in a show of opposition to the U.S.-Iraqi pact. Tens of thousands of al-Sadr supporters assembled in Baghdad last month to show their opposition to the agreement.

U.S.-led foreign forces are in Iraq under a U.N. mandate that expires Dec. 31. Iraqi officials say that if the agreement is not signed, it will seek a renewal of the mandate.


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