Baghdad (CNN) -- Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi Shiite cleric who has been staunchly opposed to the American troop presence in his country since the occupation began last decade, warned against the prospects of a "challenge" with any U.S. forces that stay in Iraq.
"Go forth from our holy land and go back to your families who are waiting for you impatiently, that you and we, as well, lead a peaceful life together," said al-Sadr on Tuesday. His Mehdi army militia was a major factor in the sectarian violence that erupted during the height of the war.
Al-Sadr issued his statement as Iraq decides whether to request that some of the 47,000 or so troops in Iraq stay beyond a January 1, 2012, deadline agreed upon between the two countries.
But Iraqi leaders have agreed that the government will begin talking with U.S. officials about leaving U.S. forces inside Iraq on a training mission.
"All political leaders have agreed on the U.S training mission in Iraq except the Sadrists, who have some reservations," President Jalal Talabani told reporters.
That's unacceptable to al-Sadr, who issued his remarks "on the basis of the logic of common humanity, in the name of a country in which you have made an incursion for years."
"Enough of this occupation, terror and abuse. We are not in need of your help. We are able to combat and defeat terrorism, and achieve unity. We are not in need of your bases, your experience and etc." al-Sadr said.
"Go forth," he said, "that we may not enter into a challenge with you or your trainers."
Since 2003, al-Sadr has had the support of tens of thousands of Shiites, especially the young and impoverished in Baghdad's slums and the Shiite south.
His Mehdi Army has been considered one of Iraq's most formidable private armies after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Al-Sadr suspended most of its activities in 2007 and 2008, which dramatically reduced violence in Iraq.
In 2008, al-Sadr announced that most of the militia members would be transitioned into a socio-cultural organization to oppose secularism and Western thought.
But Al-Sadr has ratcheted his anti-American rhetoric up in recent months, raising concerns about an increase in violence as Iraq weighs an extension to the U.S. presence.
An increase in attacks in recent months against American troops has been blamed on Shiite militias, including the Promised Day Brigade.
The U.S. military says the militia is using the bombings to try to take credit for driving forces out of the country. The U.S. military maintains that the Promised Day Brigade and other Shiite militias are backed by Iran, a charge Tehran has long denied.
The cleric, who recently returned to Iraq from three years of self-imposed exile, has transformed himself from the leader of the Mehdi Army to a political player.
His political bloc has now joined forces with a former rival, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The al-Sadr movement emerged as one of the kingmakers in Iraqi politics last year when it won 39 parliamentary seats.