NAJAF, IRAQ // The radical anti-US cleric Muqtada Al Sadr has called for US forces to return home to their families in a rare English message that threatens violence but also appeals to Christian sentiment.
"Go forth from our holy land and go back to your families who are waiting for your arrival impatiently, that you and we, as well, lead a peaceful life together," Mr Al Sadr said in the message addressed to US troops, which was posted on the website of the political committee of his movement on Monday night.
It is the third message from Mr Al Sadr since Saturday calling on US forces to go, following an agreement by Iraqi political leaders on Wednesday to start negotiations with Washington on a US military mission to train Iraqi security forces.
Unresolved issues remain over the size of the force, the duration of its stay, and whether its members would be immune from Iraqi prosecution.
"Is the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, pleased with degradation, invasion and oppression? Or are the heavenly revealed laws and divine prophets pleased therewith?" Mr Al Sadr said in the message.
"Nay, your laws and principles will never be pleased whatsoever. If you claim you have come to free us, spare us of your claims and release us of your wrongdoing," he said.
"Know that we will resist and struggle firmly and strongly as before, until you leave our land, even as you would resist and struggle if your country were exposed to invasion," he said.
About 47,000 US troops are still stationed in Iraq, all of whom must leave by the end of the year under the terms of a 2008 bilateral security pact, which would remain in force if a training deal is not agreed.
US and Iraqi military officials assess Iraq's security forces capable of maintaining internal security, but say the country is lacking in terms of capacity to defend its borders, airspace and territorial waters.
Mr Al Sadr's movement has 40 deputies in parliament and seven ministers in Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki's national unity government.
And before it was disbanded in 2008, Sadr's Mahdi Army numbered some 60,000 fighters with fierce loyalty to the cleric. It fought bloody battles with the US army in the years following the 2003 invasion which ousted Saddam Hussein.