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Iran warns US against attacking Najaf, Karbala, killing Sadr
TEHRAN, April 22 (Online): Iranian President Mohammad Khatami warned US troops on Wednesday that attacking the Iraqi Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala would be "suicide" and cautioned against killing Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr.
"An attack against Najaf and Karbala would be an act of suicide by the occupation forces, and it would provoke the resentment of all the Muslim world, especially Shias," the president told reporters after a cabinet meeting. "I do not think they will make such an error, because if they did they would be caught up in a storm," Khatami said.
Sadr, who is leading an uprising against occupation forces, has been holed up in Najaf for the past two weeks, wanted in connection with the murder of a rival pro-US cleric a year ago. US forces have said they will capture or kill him and have reinforced troop numbers near the city.
Although Iran has distanced itself from Sadr, Khatami said that to kill him would be a "provocation". "They understand this," he said of the Americans. "We are against any provocations, and I don’t think the Americans would do such a thing."
Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, however, was also quick to label Sadr’s methods as "unrealistic". "This could create problems for the future of Iraq. Najaf is a holy place for us and everything should be done to prevent the provocation of an American attack, such as the extremism of Moqtada Sadr," he said.
Khatami also reiterated Iranian demands for the withdrawal of foreign troops, as well as its support for the Iraqi interim Governing Council. "The continuation of the occupation is an insult to Iraqis and a source of the trouble there," he said. "All Iraqi forces and groups should cooperate to get out of this crisis, and I hope the just decision by Spain (to pull out its troops) will be followed by the others," Khatami said.