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Archive for Saturday, May 8, 2004

Cleric rejects U.S. apologies for abuse

May 8, 2004

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— As his militiamen continued fighting with U.S. troops Friday, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr dismissed American apologies for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners and called for U.S. soldiers implicated in the scandal to be tried in Iraqi courts.

Al-Sadr, who is wanted in the killing of a rival cleric, accused President Bush of being a hypocrite for using Saddam Hussein's human rights violations as a justification for invading Iraq, and then failing to prevent the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

"What sort of freedom and democracy can we expect from you when you take such joy in torturing Iraqi prisoners?" al-Sadr declared at a sermon before Friday prayers in the southern city of Kufa. "I tell this to Bush: Your statements are not enough. The people who did this must be punished by the Iraqi people."

In the southern city of Basra, one of al-Sadr's top aides waved an assault rifle during his sermon and told worshippers that anyone who captured a female British soldier could keep her as a slave. Sheik Abdul-Sattar al-Bahadli also said that anyone who kills a British soldier would receive a $150 bounty, while capturing a soldier would wield $350.

"Any Iraqi who takes a female soldier can keep her as a slave or gift to himself," he said.

Al-Bahadli said he had documents and photos proving that three Iraqi women had been raped at British-run prisons in southern Iraq, and he waved a stack of papers before the congregation.

A junior cleric, Al-Sadr, 30, has become increasingly isolated from the Shiite religious establishment. Senior clerics are angry that his fighters have taken up positions and stored weapons at Shiite shrines in Najaf and Karbala.

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