IMAGE: Muqtada al-Sadr
Mohammed Hato  /  AP file
Radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr is shown in Najaf, Iraq, on June 26, 2005.
updated 7/18/2005 8:25:09 AM ET 2005-07-18T12:25:09

A radical Shiite cleric who led two major uprisings against American forces in Iraq last year called for his countrymen to exercise self-restraint and avoid violence, according to a BBC interview to be broadcast Monday.

Muqtada al-Sadr condemned the U.S. military presence in Iraq, and in the interview kept open the possibility of returning to armed resistance, but said Iraqis should not be provoked into violence.

“(I believe) America does not want confrontation. So I call upon other parties like the Iraqi army, and the Iraqi police, to exercise self-restraint with Iraqi people and not be provoked into confrontation with them or the occupying forces as this isn’t in the interest of Iraq,” al-Sadr said, according to a transcript of the interview released by the BBC’s Newsnight program.

“I also call on the Iraqi people to exercise restraint and not get enmeshed in the plans of the West or plans of the occupation that wants to provoke them,” he said. The BBC said the interview was recorded in Iraq within the past two weeks, but was not more specific.

Al-Sadr’s militia battled U.S. forces in the holy city of Najaf and the Shiite district of Baghdad, Sadr City last year, before cease-fire agreements ended the fighting.

In the deadly street battles, his militia — the Imam al-Mahdi Army — stood and fought U.S. forces across a string of towns across central and southern Iraq.

Al-Sadr has called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. and other coalition forces from Iraq and has opposed elections while Iraq is under “occupation.”

“The occupation in itself is a problem,” al-Sadr said in the interview. “Iraq not being independent is the problem. And the other problems stem from that — from sectarianism to civil war, the entire American presence causes this.”

He said he would refuse any political role while the “occupation” was present and would not take part in the writing of the new Iraqi constitution.

Al-Sadr doesn't rule out return to violence
According to Newsnight, al-Sadr, who still has his own militia, the Mahdi army, made clear that he was keeping open the possibility of a return to armed resistance.

“Resistance is legitimate at all levels,” he was quoted as saying, “be it religious, intellectual, and so on.”

His movement has its roots in the 1990s when his father Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, a powerful Shiite cleric, defied Saddam Hussein. The senior al-Sadr was killed by suspected agents of Saddam in 1999.

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