Iraqi Shiite cleric calls additional US troops a "target"

AP News
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Posted: Jul 18, 2016 4:02 AM

BAGHDAD (AP) — A powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric said the additional 560 U.S. troops heading to Iraq to upgrade an air base recently retaken from the Islamic State group would be a "target" for his supporters.

Muqtada al-Sadr's threat came in response to a question from a supporter about the deployment, announced in Baghdad last week by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

"They are a target for us," Al-Sadr wrote on his official website late Sunday, without elaborating.

Al-Sadr's supporters fought major battles against American troops in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. His militia, known as the Peace Brigades, is among the largest of several government-sanctioned Shiite armed groups battling IS.

In recent months, al-Sadr has been campaigning for reform and an end to government corruption. Earlier this year, his followers twice stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone, a sprawling complex housing parliament, government ministries and diplomatic missions, including the U.S. Embassy.

On Friday tens of thousands of al-Sadr supporters rallied in central Baghdad.

It was not immediately clear whether al-Sadr's comment amounted to ordering his followers to attack the American troops headed to the Qayara base in northern Iraq. The latest deployment brings the total U.S. force authorization in the country to 4,647.

Other Shiite militia leaders have made similar threats against U.S. military personnel deployed in Iraq, but they appear to be mainly aimed at pandering to supporters, many of whom still view the U.S. as an occupying force.

There have been no known attacks on American forces by Shiite militias in the two years since the U.S. launched its campaign against IS.