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Iraq Transition

Al-Sadr calls for anti-U.S. protests to mark Baghdad's fall

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NEW: Bomb at market was carried in ambulance, U.S. says
NEW: U.S. general deplores "horrific" tactics of insurgents
• Iraq's powerful cleric calls for April 9 protest in Shiite stronghold Najaf
• Al-Sadr urges Iraqis to "reject occupation, destruction and terrorism"
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is calling for an anti-American protest in the Iraqi city of Najaf on April 9, the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

Al-Sadr's statement calling for a demonstration was read aloud by a senior member of al-Sadr's movement, Sheikh Suhail al-Iqabi, on Friday in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood and elsewhere in Iraq.

"I renew my call for the occupier to leave our land," said the statement, referring to the United States. "The departure of the occupier will mean stability for Iraq, victory for Islam and peace and defeat for terrorism and infidels."

U.S. and Iraqi officials don't know al-Sadr's whereabouts. They have said he fled to Iran after recent military operations in Baghdad, but his supporters insist he remains in Iraq.

Al-Iqabi, who traveled from Najaf to Baghdad, read the statement to thousands of listeners in Sadr City, a stronghold of al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia and a bastion of support for the Shiite leader.

Najaf, south of Baghdad, is one of the world's major centers of Shiite Islam. The fall of Baghdad symbolizes the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

"The fourth anniversary passes us by with more pain and sorrow, leaving behind thousands of killed and wounded people from Iraq's women and men, old and young," said the al-Sadr statement.

"Raise your voices in support of the resistance from the south of Iraq to the north, from the west of Iraq to the east. May Iraq be united, independent and stable, fully sovereign and free from interference by any occupiers, and safe from the hands of traitors and infidels." (Watch Saudi Arabia's king also condemn the U.S. occupation Video)

Al-Sadr urged the "oppressed people of Iraq" to "let the entire world hear your voices."

He urged them to "reject occupation, destruction and terrorism" and say that "you love peace, Islam and freedom."

"Keep the reputation of Iraq and its people protected, cut the tongues of liars and traitors that want to take from Iraq and its people," he said, telling people to "obey the call of freedom and peace."

"Hoist Iraqi flags atop homes, apartment buildings and government departments to show the sovereignty and independence of Iraq, and that you reject the presence of American flags and those of other nations occupying our beloved Iraq."

He said the flags should be hoisted "until they leave our land."

Members of al-Sadr's Mehdi Army are believed to be involved in fierce sectarian battles and killings. The Baghdad security crackdown has been targeting such armed Shiite groups.

The cleric reportedly fled to predominantly Shiite Iran about the time U.S. and Iraqi forces launched the Baghdad crackdown. Al-Sadr has been supportive of the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and helped al-Maliki's rise to power in 2006. But al-Maliki has said that no lawbreaker will be immune to the security operations.

U.S. and Iraqi forces said their raids have netted two high-profile al-Sadr associates -- Deputy Health Minister Hakem Abbas al-Zamili and Abdul Hadi Darraji, the head of the cleric's media office.

Bomb hidden in ambulance, U.S. says

One of three bombs that detonated Thursday in the Diyala province town of Khalis, north of Baghdad, was stowed in an ambulance, the U.S. military said Friday.

The ambulance bomb was the third to detonate, the military said, and was believed to be targeting the first responders to the other blasts. The bombings, at a marketplace, killed 43 people and wounded 86.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, denounced the insurgents' use of chlorine gas and children in carrying out attacks.

This week has been particularly bloody, with scores killed in many incidents, including high-profile bombings in Shiite areas in Baghdad, Khalis in Diyala province, and Tal Afar in Nineveh province.

"Al Qaeda in Iraq elements once again displayed their total disregard for human life, carrying out barbaric actions against innocent Iraqi citizens in an effort to reignite sectarian violence and to undermine recent Iraqi and coalition successes in improving security in Baghdad," Petraeus said Friday.

Petraeus called the attacks "horrific" and said the coalition joins Iraq leaders "in condemning these latest acts of cold-blooded murder."

Other developments

  • Eighteen police officers were arrested in Iraq's Nineveh province on Friday in connection with the reprisal killings of 70 people in Tal Afar, a police official said. The reprisal killings were carried out late Tuesday and Wednesday morning, after truck bombings in Shiite districts in that northern Iraqi city on Tuesday killed 85 people.
  • Police found 25 corpses Friday in Mosul, said an official with the morgue in the northern Iraqi city. Some of the dead had been shot in the head, and others showed signs of torture. Some had been blindfolded, and others had their hands tied behind their backs.
  • A U.S. airstrike in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood about 2 a.m. Friday killed at least 16 people and wounded 14 others, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said. He said all of those killed were guards who protect neighborhoods in Sadr City. The U.S. military said it is looking into the report.
  • Coalition forces arrested 11 militants Friday morning, the U.S. military said. Six suspected terrorists were seized in an operation near the Syrian border, according to the military. The suspects have "alleged links to al Qaeda and foreign fighter facilitation." The location was not provided. Five people "with alleged involvement in foreign fighter facilitation" were seized in a raid north of Karma, in Iraq's Anbar province, the military said.
  • CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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