Moqtada al-Sadr, who is either the sharpest thorn in the side of U.S. forces in Iraq or the linchpin of an Iraqi parliament frequently on the verge of coming apart — or both — has ordered his followers not to attack U.S. troops in order to make sure the occupiers leave as quickly as possible.

The U.S. military is officially unwelcome in Iraq after Dec. 31, but there are negotiations aimed at allowing some troops to remain for an additional period. If that happens, al-Sadr says his “military operations will be resumed in a new and tougher way.”

The Guardian:

In a statement posted on his website, the Shia cleric tells his militias to halt attacks until the US withdrawal is finished at the end of the year as required under a security agreement between Washington and Baghdad.

“Out of my desire to complete Iraq’s independence and to finish the withdrawal of the occupation forces from our holy lands, I am obliged to halt military operations of the honest Iraqi resistance until the withdrawal of the occupation forces is complete,” al-Sadr said in the statement, posted on Saturday night. Sadrist lawmaker Mushraq Naji confirmed the statement on Sunday.

However, al-Sadr warned that “if the withdrawal doesn’t happen … the military operations will be resumed in a new and tougher way.” The statement followed last week’s announcement by US officials in Baghdad of the start of the withdrawal of some 45,000 US military personnel from Iraq. However, US and Iraqi leaders are considering whether some American troops should remain past the 31 December deadline as Baghdad continues to struggle with instability and burgeoning influence from Iran. Last month, Iraqi leaders began negotiating with US officials to keep at least several thousand troops in Iraq to continue training the nation’s shaky security forces.

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