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Muqtada al-Sadr warns of severe attacks on US troops

By Patrick Cockburn

Any US troops remaining in Iraq after the end of the year will be attacked, according to Muqtada al-Sadr, the nationalist Shia cleric whose movement has previously fought to end the US occupation.

He said that military operations by his Mehdi Army militia against US troops will be suspended to give them no excuse to remain beyond December 31 as was agreed by the US and Iraq in 2008.

He threatened, in a statement on his website, that if there is not a full US withdrawal "the military operation will start again and with new approaches, and it will be very severe".

The continued presence of some US troops is being demanded by Kurdish and some Sunni leaders, highlighting big differences between Kurds, Sunnis and Shias in Iraq.

The Kurds, in particular, are keen to see US troops patrol and mediate the swathe of territory in northern Iraq where Kurdish and Arab populations intermingle.

A US response to the statement said: "We shall soon see whether the Promised Day Brigade and others affiliated with al-Sadr's organisation continue to conduct attacks against US forces and the Iraqi government."

There have been few attacks on the remaining 46,000 US troops in Iraq in recent weeks and no US soldiers were killed in August, though 14 died in June.

Iraq and the US have been talking about a force of 10,000 troops staying and US officials have leaked that it might be as low as 3,000 to 5,000.

The US wants to keep a residual force in the country as a symbol that it did not wholly lose out in the struggle for Iraq.

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