This interview was published Friday in the Italian newspaper La
Repubblica, I've only found a couple of English translations available
on the web and they highlight the same things without concentrating
on the importance of what Sadr says.
He denies being present at Saddam's execution, saying the hecklers
heard on the recording were hired to discredit him and Sunnis in
order to stir things up further between the two factions: which he
says is what happened.
ROME (AP) - Iraq's radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said in an
interview published Friday in an Italian newspaper that his Mahdi
Army militia would not resist the Iraqi prime minister's planned
security crackdown during the sacred Islamic month of Muharram.
Al-Sadr said that 400 of his men had been arrested and that he is
also being targeted, prompting him to move his family to a secure
location, the Italian daily La Repubblica reported.
Pressure is increasing on al-Sadr's militia ahead of a planned security
sweep aimed at stemming the sectarian violence ransacking the Iraqi
capital. On Friday, U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested one of the cleric's
top aides in Baghdad, his office said.
"During Muharram, the Quran prohibits us from killing," the cleric
told the Italian newspaper, referring to the Islamic lunar month
marking the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet
Muhammad. Muharram starts Friday for Sunnis and Saturday for
"Let them kill us. For a true believer there is no better moment than
this to die: Heaven is ensured," he was quoted as saying. "After
Muharram, we'll see."
"It is not us they want to destroy, but Islam. We are just an obstacle,"
said al-Sadr. "For the time being we will not put up resistance."
The newspaper did not say how or where it conducted the interview
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pledged to crack down on
Shiite militias as well as Sunni insurgents in a planned security
operation to quell the sectarian violence in Baghdad.
Critics have charged that two previous crackdowns failed because the
prime minister, who gets political backing from al-Sadr, was
reluctant in the past to confront the cleric's Mahdi Army. The militia
is blamed for sectarian killings targeting the Sunni minority that was
dominant under Saddam Hussein.
"There are many of us. We represent a majority in the country that
doesn't want Iraq ... to become a secular state, and a slave to
Western powers," Al-Sadr added, according to the Rome-based daily.
The Shiite cleric said he is being targeted.
"For this reason, I have moved my family to a secure location. I even
have had a will drawn up, and I move continuously in a way that only
few can know where I am," he was quoted as saying by Repubblica.
"But even if I were to die, Mahdi would continue to exist. Men can be
killed. Faith and ideas cannot," he said.
Al-Sadr said that "there are at least four armies" ready to strike
against his Mahdi militia: a secret army he said was trained in Jordan
by the U.S. military, a private army he said is at the disposal of
former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, Kurdish militias known as
peshmergas and U.S. troops.
Al-Sadr also denied attending the Dec. 30 hanging of Saddam,
dismissing the suggestion as "complete nonsense."
"My men were not there" either, he said. "There were people paid to
discredit me. ... The goal was to pass Moqtada off as real enemy of
the Sunnis. And they were successful."
The cleric said, however, that he "certainly did not cry" over Saddam's
death and added that if it had been up to him "I would have hanged
him in a public square for the entire world to see."
A fierce opponent of the United States, al-Sadr reiterated his calls for
an immediate U.S. troop pullout, saying that is the only way that any
solution for Iraq can be found.