Cleric's Supporters Threaten All-Out War With US

By David Thibault | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

( - Tens of thousands of supporters of radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr Friday threatened to unleash an all-out war on U.S. forces if the Americans storm Najaf in pursuit of al-Sadr.

"You Americans, do not fall into a quagmire and storm Najaf," warned Sheikh Nasser al-Saedi, or "rivers of your blood will flow." Al-Saedi addressed the rebels in Baghdad's Sadr City, which is named after al-Sadr's father and uncle.

Two thousand, five hundred American soldiers are poised near Najaf to kill or capture al-Sadr and chances of a peaceful outcome appear to have slipped away following al-Sadr's defiant pledge to keep his Mehdi Army militia intact.

Saedi warned that al-Sadr would win, even if he had to die in the process.
"We killed the American dream. You will not take over this country. You do not understand what martyrdom means," Saedi said. A Lebanese newspaper quoted al-Sadr himself Friday as warning that if he were killed or arrested, Iraqis would respond with unimaginable "force and severity."

Al-Sadr's followers began clashing with U.S. troops two weeks ago after the cleric's newspaper was shut down and one of his top aides was arrested. Friday, al-Sadr's supporters gathered outside a mosque as children played football in streets full of sewage. The Reuters News Agency described the scene as including "skinny donkeys and goats" scavenging "on garbage in the middle of the road."

Saedi criticized the U.S.-led occupation, claiming that it has produced no benefit for the average Iraqi.

"The Americans said 400 projects have been executed costing billions of dollars. Where are these projects? Tell me, has the water you drink and electricity improved? Where is the security?" Saedi asked. "They have no shame. Damn them always. Damn them until the apocalypse.""