A senior aide of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told worshippers during a Friday sermon in southern Iraq that anyone capturing a female British soldier can keep her as a slave.
The aide, Sheik Abdul-Sattar al-Bahadli, also called on supporters to launch jihad, or holy war, against British troops in this southern city.
He offered money to anyone capturing or killing a member of the Governing Council, the widely unpopular interim administration appointed by the U.S.-led occupation 10 months ago.
Al-Bahadli, al-Sadr’s chief representative in southern Iraq, spoke at al-Hawi mosque in central Basra.
It was the first time any anti-occupation activist of note publicly offered financial reward for the killing or capturing of coalition troops.
Rising anti-occupation sentiment
That offer likely will be viewed by occupation authorities with concern at a time of rising anti-occupation sentiment and continuing fighting between al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army militia and U.S. forces in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.
A wave of kidnappings last month saw scores of foreign nationals snatched by insurgents and shadowy groups across Iraq.
Al-Bahadli kept an assault rifle next to him as he spoke to an estimated 3,000 worshippers, occasionally lifting it as he screamed “jihad!,” and “Allahu Akbar!,” or “God is greatest!”
He held what he said were documents and photographs of three Iraqi women being raped at British-run prisons in Iraq.
He also accused British forces in Basra of failing to honor agreements not to patrol inside the city and to stop harassing al-Sadr supporters in Basra.
Al-Bahadli said 250,000 dinars — about $350 — will be given to anyone capturing a British soldier and 100,000 dinars — or $150 — to anyone killing one.
He also called on government departments in Basra to display pictures of al-Sadr in their offices.
Sunnis, Shiites show solidarity
In Fallujah, a Sunni hotbed of anti-occupation resistance west of Baghdad, an estimated 400 al-Sadr supporters from Najaf, Karbala and Baghdad prayed at one of the city’s main Sunni mosques in a symbolic act of solidarity.
Shiites form a majority in Iraq but were oppressed for decades by a Sunni Arab minority until Saddam Hussein’s ouster a year ago. Sunnis have been embittered by their loss of power to Shiites in post-Saddam Iraq.
But last month’s siege of Fallujah by U.S. Marines and al-Sadr’s standoff with the Americans have brought the two sects together, with al-Sadr posters now in Fallujah and Shiites sending relief supplies to the city.