Key Iraqi cleric and political leader Moqtada al-Sadr has continued with demonstrations against the possible continuation of the US military presence past December. Hundreds of thousands of Sadrists have marched in Baghdad alone over the weekend.
Sadr also issued a statement that was said to include a threat to return to “armed resistance” if the US tries to continue its military presence beyond the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) deadline.
The comments came in the wake of a multi-day visit by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, during which Gates pressed for Iraq to endorse a continued presence and suggested that the US might stay in Iraq for years.
Sadr has repeatedly opposed the US occupation, and the only way his bloc agreed to endorse the SOFA in late 2008 was with the promise of a referendum on the presence, which never came. Now, his increasingly strong faction poses a serious political threat to the Obama Administration’s stated intention of keeping troops in Iraq in 2012 and beyond.