The radical Iraqi Shi'ite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, is calling on U.S. troops to leave Iraq or face resistance. His warning comes as Iraqi leaders prepare to discuss a possible extension of the U.S. military presence in the country.
The anti-American cleric issued the warning to U.S. forces in a statement published on his website Tuesday. In it, al-Sadr tells American troops to "go back to your families who are waiting for your arrival impatiently," and says Iraqis will "resist and struggle firmly and strongly as before until you leave."
Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia fought U.S. troops in Iraq until 2008, when he disbanded the force and focused his movement on Iraq's political process. His Sadrist party is a key faction in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition government.
Maliki and some of his coalition partners recently agreed to talks with the United States on allowing U.S. troops to continue training Iraqi forces after an end-of-2011 deadline for the U.S. military to pull out of the country. Al-Sadr's party objected to that agreement.
In his message to the U.S. military, al-Sadr says: "Enough of this occupation, terror and abuse. We are not in need of your help. We are able to combat and defeat terrorism, and achieve unity."
U.S. and Iraqi officials have said Iraqi forces are capable of maintaining internal security but need training in using heavy weaponry to defend the country's borders, airspace and territorial waters.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.