Target US troops fighting ISIS, Iraqi cleric orders followers

BAGHDAD • Powerful Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has instructed his followers to target US troops deploying to Iraq as part of the military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter last week said the Pentagon would send 560 additional troops to help Iraqi forces retake the northern city of Mosul in an offensive planned for later this year.

Sadr, who rose to prominence when his Mahdi Army battled American troops after the 2003 invasion, posted the comments on his official website on Sunday after a follower asked for his response to Mr Carter's announcement.

"They are a target for us," Sadr said, without offering details.

The Mahdi Army was disbanded in 2008, replaced by the Peace Brigades which helped push back ISIS from near Baghdad in 2014 under a government-run umbrella, and maintains a presence in the capital and several other cities.

Sadr, who commands the loyalty of tens of thousands of supporters, is also leading a protest movement that saw demonstrators storm Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone government district twice this year, hampering Parliament for weeks.

The new troop deployment, which is expected to happen within weeks, would raise the number of United States forces in Iraq to around 4,650, far below the peak of about 170,000 reached during the nearly nine-year occupation.

Other Shi'ite militias, particularly those backed by Iran, have made similar pledges to attack US soldiers in the past year, but the only casualties since American forces returned to Iraq to battle ISIS two years ago have come at the hands of the Sunni militant group.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'Target US troops fighting ISIS, Iraqi cleric orders followers'. Print Edition | Subscribe