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Iraq's Sadr says to halt attacks on US troops

Anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has called on his followers to cease all attacks against US forces operating in Iraq. But he cautioned that if US troops do not leave by the end of the year, as promised, anti-American violence would resume.

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Reuters - Iraq's fiercely anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Sunday called on his followers to  suspend attacks against U.S. troops to ensure they leave Iraq by  a year-end deadline.

But he warned that if U.S. forces do not depart on time, military operations would resume and would be "very severe".

"Because of my eagerness to accomplish the independence of Iraq and have the invader forces withdraw from our holy land, it has become imperative for me to stop military operations until the invader forces complete their withdrawal," Sadr said in a statement read out by his spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi.

American troops are scheduled to withdraw fully by Dec. 31 and Sadr, whose Mehdi Army militia fought U.S. forces until 2008, warned last month than U.S. military trainers who stayed beyond 2011 would be targets.

While Sadr's Mehdi Army militia has for the most part been demobilised, U.S. officials say splinter groups have continued to attack U.S. soldiers.

Iraq's political leaders are currently negotiating with the United States on the sensitive issue of whether to keep U.S. military on as trainers beyond 2011, more than eight years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi security forces are seen to be capable of tackling internal threats, but say they still need training for their air and naval defences, and some heavy conventional weaponry.

Sadr's political movement is a key ally to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in his fragile coalition mix of Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds.

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