Iraq’s Most Popular Muslim Cleric Tells Followers To Target US Troops

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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Muqtada al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most powerful clerics and political figures, told his followers Sunday to attack U.S. troops as well as the Islamic State in Iraq.

“They are a target for us,” al-Sadr said in a post on his official website.

The Shia Muslim cleric’s comments came in response to a follower’s question regarding Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s announcement last Monday that the U.S. will increase its troop cap in Iraq by 560, bringing the total allowed in country to 4,647. Sadr offered no further details regarding his statement.

Al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army fought U.S. and coalition troops after the Iraqi invasion in 2003. The militia group was disbanded in 2008, replaced by the so-called Peace Brigades which fought the ISIS forces near Baghdad in 2014 with the blessing of the Iraqi government.

In addition to his militia, al-Sadr commands a vast political movement known as the Sadr Trend. The movement commands the loyalty of thousands of Iraqi citizens, despite the fact that al-Sadr himself holds no official post in the government.

Al-Sadr has gained significant political influence since the rise of ISIS in 2014. His increased political clout has allowed al-Sadr to put significant pressure on the Baghdad government. Sadr Trend followers stormed the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad’s Green Zone in May after al-Sadr called for a reformation of the government. Al-Sadr later that month called on his Peace Brigades to prepare to invade the ISIS-held city of Mosul.

A new contingent of U.S. troops is preparing to deploy to Iraq within weeks in support of the ongoing siege of Mosul.

“These additional U.S. forces will bring unique capabilities to the campaign and provide critical enabler support to Iraqi forces at a key moment in the fight,” said Carter during the announcement.

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