Iraq cleric pursues U.S. troop ban in strongholds

Thu Jun 30, 2011 11:36am GMT

By Suadad al-Salhy

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is leading a campaign to bar U.S. troops from cities and government buildings to pressure Baghdad and Washington to remove American forces from Iraq by year-end, officials said.

Members of Sadr's political movement have asked about 10 provincial councils in central and southern Iraq, including the capital, Baghdad, and the oil hub, Basra, to pass resolutions to keep U.S. forces out of cities and Iraqi facilities.

Last week Basra's council approved such a resolution and demanded they leave any civilian buildings used as army bases, including the city airport, provincial officials said.

On Monday, U.S. soldiers protecting a provincial reconstruction team were asked to leave Basra council's building or give up their weapons, officials said.

Sadr's demand that U.S. forces leave by year-end and his threat to revive his Mehdi Army if they don't are testing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's fragile coalition.

The remaining 47,000 U.S. troops are due to leave Iraq by December 31 under a bilateral security agreement. Maliki has called on political leaders to discuss whether a contingent should stay on to support and train local armed forces.

Baghdad is supposed to deliver its final decision on the issue before August.

"It is a Sadrist campaign created by Sayyid Moqtada, and Sadr blocs in all provinces, totally, have adopted this resolution," Sadrist politician Mazin al-Mazini, a Basra provincial council member, said.   Continued...

<p>A woman holds a picture of anti-U.S. Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr as his supporters march on a street in Baghdad's Sadr city May 26, 2011. REUTERS/Kareem Raheem</p>
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