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Sadr wants Bush to face trial
NAJAF: Radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr railed against President George W. Bush in a defiant sermon on Friday as the US military pressed on with an operation to crush his month-long insurrection.
Sadr, wanted by the Americans for the murder of a rival cleric last year, demanded that Bush face trial over the abuse of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad .
US forces ringed Najaf with a series of roadblocks as part of the operation, but Sadr trailed by hundreds of gun-toting followers slipped past them to visit the Grand Mosque in the neighbouring city of Kufa for Friday prayers.
"I demand the international community make Bush and all his deputies stand trial before an Iraqi court," he said.
Sadr, who has promised to lead his followers to martyrdom, demanded the Americans "free all the prisoners, destroy Abu Ghraib or transform it into a cultural site."
However, senior Shiite cleric Sheikh Sadreddin Kubanji told thousands of worshippers at the Imam Ali Mausoleum that Sadr's militia should leave the city.
"Listen to the advice of the learned ones. You are our beloved youth and we care about you, but go back to your home where you came from and fight the occupation and the Baathists there," said Kubanji, who has ties with Iraq 's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Iraq Sunnis Host Sadr Followers in Show of Support
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Thousands of supporters of rebel Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr prayed in Sunni mosques in Iraq Friday, in what local leaders called a show of religious unity in the face of Iraq's occupiers.
The gesture was the latest display of solidarity among Iraq's Muslims since U.S. forces besieged the Sunni town of Falluja west of Baghdad and faced off with Sadr's militia in the Shi'ite holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala to the south.
Sadr's popularity among Shi'ites, who make up about 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people, seems to have soared since his uprising began a month ago, particularly among the young and the poor.
Busloads of Sadr's followers carrying portraits of the young cleric and wearing the insignia of his Mehdi Army militia trooped to the staunchly Sunni Baghdad neighborhood of Aadhamiya to pray in the Abu Hanifa mosque, named for a pre-eminent scholar and thinker of Sunni Islam.
"Yes, yes to Moqtada!" chanted Sadr's followers who jammed the mosque, outside of which others set up checkpoints to direct traffic and frisked worshippers as they entered from streets where posters bearing Sadr's face dotted many buildings.
Ahmad Hassan Taha, a Sunni cleric who led prayers at the mosque, said the presence of Sadr's followers was a message to U.S. forces who are massed around the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf in a bid to crush his insurgency.
"They have tried to sow discord among us, as Sunnis and Shi'ites, and they have failed," he said, referring to the U.S. occupiers. His words were echoed by Sadr aide Sheikh Abdel Hadi al-Darraji, who told worshippers: "After finishing in Falluja, they have turned to Najaf."
Several hundred Sadr supporters also prayed in Falluja, an insurgent stronghold that U.S. Marines surrounded and bombed last month after four U.S. contractors were killed and their bodies mutilated in the city.
The siege of Falluja prompted donations of blood and food from Iraqi Shi'ites, underlining the growing resentment of the U.S. presence in Iraq, where Shi'ites suffered persecution under Saddam Hussein. Since Saddam's ouster, Shi'ites who recall centuries of political marginalization under Ottoman, British and Sunni Iraqi rule have vowed not to concede power in the future, though mainstream Shi'ite leaders have largely avoided confrontation with the U.S.-led occupation authorities.
Rows of Shi'ite worshippers laid the small stones on which they place their heads during prayer -- in contrast to the rites of Sunnis -- across the carpeted halls of Abu Hanifa, often breaking into chants of Sadr's name that drew rebukes from the mosque's Sunni sheikh.
"Remember that this place has its own sanctity," said Taha, as an aide gestured angrily at the Shi'ite visitors to be quiet. "In this mosque the only name mentioned is God's," he said. (Additional reporting by Yasser Faysal in Falluja)