tampabay.com

Radical cleric resurfaces in Iraq

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 26, 2007


BAGHDAD - Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr resurfaced Friday after months in hiding and demanded that U.S. troops leave Iraq, a development likely to complicate U.S. efforts to crack down on violence and broker political compromise in the country.

Hours later, the leader of Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in the city of Basra, Wissam al-Waili, 23, also known as Abu Qadir, was killed in a shootout as British and Iraqi troops tried to arrest him, police and the British military said, further inflaming tensions in the Shiite areas of southern Iraq.

Sadr, 33, went underground - reportedly in Iran - at the start of the U.S.-led security crackdown on Baghdad 14 weeks ago. He also had ordered his militia off the streets to prevent conflict with U.S. forces.

His return to the Shiite holy city of Najaf appeared to be an effort by the cleric to regain control over his militia, which had begun fragmenting, and to take advantage of the illness of a Shiite rival, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and went to Iran for treatment.

Sadr drove in a long motorcade from Najaf to its sister city of Kufa to deliver an anti-American sermon to 6, 000 chanting supporters at the main mosque.

"We demand the withdrawal of the occupation forces or the creation of a timetable for such a withdrawal, " he said.

While the call for a U.S. pullout was nothing new, Sadr also peppered his speech with nationalist overtones, criticizing the government for not providing services, appealing to his followers not to fight with Iraqi security forces and reaching out to Sunnis.

Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Sadr may have come back to try to garner Sunni support, establish himself as a critic of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and take the mantle as the leading Iraqi opponent of the U.S. presence here.

In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe expressed hope that Sadr's reappearance signals that he wants "to play a positive role inside Iraq."

Soldiers' deaths: The U.S. military announced the deaths of eight U.S. soldiers and one Marine, putting May on pace to be one of the deadliest months for troops in Iraq. On Friday, two U.S. soldiers were killed north of Baghdad, and a Marine died of noncombat causes, the military reported today. Another soldier was killed by small-arms fire and four others died in explosions Thursday in Baghdad and north of the capital, the military said. Another soldier was killed in an explosion near his vehicle Tuesday in Baghdad province.

Bill signed: President Bush signed a bill Friday to pay for military operations in Iraq after a bitter struggle with Democrats in Congress who sought unsuccessfully to tie the money to U.S. troop withdrawals.

Intelligence: In secret papers circulated within the government before the Iraq invasion, intelligence analysts predicted that al-Qaida would see U.S. military action as an opportunity to increase its operations and that Iran would try to shape a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, according to newly declassified documents released Friday by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

More visas: Congress has passed legislation to increase from 50 to 500 the number of special immigrant visas for Iraqi and Afghan translators and interpreters, whose work with U.S. military personnel and diplomatic officials makes them targets for terrorist violence. The government can issue 500 such visas a year over the next two years.

. how they voted

House

The House passed the Iraq war portion of the spending bill by a 280-142 vote and passed the domestic programs by a 348-73 vote.

Senate

The Senate approved the entire bill by a vote of 80-14.

Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor

Yes Yes
Ginny Brown-Waite,

R-Brooksville

Yes No
Adam Putnam,

R-Bartow

Yes No
C.W. Bill Young,

R-Indian Shores

Yes Yes
Vern Buchanan,

R-Sarasota

Yes Yes
Kathy Castor,

D-Tampa

No Yes
Associated Press, U.S. House of Representatives

Mel Martinez, R

Yes
Bill Nelson, D Yes