Muqtada Sadr says Iraq will deal with U.S. as occupier if it doesn’t withdraw forces

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region: Shiite cleric and the main sponsor of Friday’s anti-US demonstrations Muqtada al-Sadr has said Iraq doesn’t want another war with the US, calling for a scheduled withdrawal of US troops supervised by international actors.

“We will spare no effort for the purpose of not embroiling Iraq into the fire of another war with the sinful [US] occupation, which has committed crimes against Iraq,” Sadr said in a Friday statement.

He then called for a scheduled withdrawal of US troops supervised by the United Nations, the Islamic Cooperation Council or the European Union.

Iraq "will no longer deal with the US as an occupier" if it adheres to the designated timeline and conditions of a troop withdrawal, he added.

The cleric, who also leads Iraq’s parliament Sairun Alliance, has been a key figure in calling for the end of the US presence in the country.

Sadr said that despite willingness to fight for Iraq, decades of war have tired the country.

“Despite US having worn our heart on top of armor, we have been and still are part of martyr projects..but we are considerate of the conditions of Iraq and its people, as war has exhausted them,” Sadr said.

A large but short-lived demonstration took place on Friday morning, calling for US troops – around 5,000 of whom are in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi Special Forces- to leave the country.
"Down Down America. Down Down to colonialism. Down Down to Israel,” protesters could be heard chanting on Friday morning.

The protests came following an escalation in tensions between US and Iran earlier this month which almost led to war on Iraqi soil.

The US has turned Iraq into “a field of political rivalries and foreign intervention, and even a field for settling scores with rivals,” the cleric argued.

In addition to calling for the closure of US military bases, security contractor offices and the denial of Iraqi airspace to US fighter jets, the cleric also called for an end to all security agreements between the two states.

However, Sadr’s latest statement also extended various olive branches to the US, calling on Iran-backed militias to temporarily suspend “resistance” until the last soldier leaves.

Sadr also called on the government to protect diplomatic missions, embassies and employees of all countries, and to “prevent violations and hold to account the perpetrators”.

In an apparent reference to Iran, Sadr also warned against intervention in “how we deal with the occupier in case it stays and rejects withdrawing its forces”.

Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic), over which Sadr has significant sway, should integrate into the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior, he also argued.

The topic of PMF integration into Iraq’s official security services has been a thorny issue. The forces, founded in 2014 based on a Fatwa (religious decree) by Supreme Shiite religious authority Ayatollah Sistani.

In 2016, the Iraqi Parliament passed a bill that aimed to integrate the forces into Iraq’s official security apparatus through the formation of Popular Mobilization Forces Commission, which is under the command of Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.

The forces, however, have retained their autonomy and their militias. On July 1, 2019, Iraq’s PM decreed that all PMF factions would be integrated into the armed forces by no later than July 31, but the decree never materialized.

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