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Sadr Urges Iraqis To Support New Government

Muqtada al-Sadr has returned to Iraq
Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called on Iraqis to give the country's new government a chance in his first public speech since returning home from exile.

Thousands of Iraqis gathered on January 8 in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf to hear Sadr, who returned to Iraq earlier this week after nearly four years of self-imposed exile in Iran.

The powerful Shi'ite cleric urged his supporters to oppose the United States and resist all occupiers.

"Iraq has passed through difficult circumstances that panicked the people, disturbed the people, and was a source of discomfort for all except for our common enemies America, Israel, and Britain. Therefore, repeat after me: No. No America," Sadr said.

Resistance, he added, did not necessarily mean using weapons -- a comment that seemed to endorse the authority of the army and the police.

"There is cultural resistance, too," he said. "Rejecting the occupier in our hearts is resistance."

Uprisings Against U.S.

Sadr is known for orchestrating two uprisings against the U.S. military after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and his feared Al-Mahdi Army militia has been blamed for sectarian violence in the country.

In Najaf, the cleric vowed that his forces would not harm fellow Iraqis.

He also called on Iraqis to support the newly formed government led by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Sadr nonetheless warned that he and his allies had 'the political means" to reject Maliki's government should it fail to ensure that all U.S. troops leave Iraq by the end of the year as planned.

The 37-year-old cleric fled in 2007 for Iran, where his aides say he pursued religious studies in the Iranian holy city of Qom.

It is unclear how long he plans to remain in Iraq.

compiled from agency reports