"This is a message from Sayid Muqtada. I call on all religious and political powers that pushed towards the elections and took part in them to issue an official statement calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of the occupation forces from Iraq," Sayid Hashim Abu Raghif told worshippers gathered for Friday prayers in the Shia city of Kufa.

 

Al-Sadr, who earlier belittled last week's vote, said he would no longer refrain from commenting on political developments in Iraq after keeping quiet for months, according to a statement Abu Raghif read from al-Sadr to thousands of worshippers.

 

West's pawn

 

"I stood aside for the elections and did not stand against them as I did not want to show disobedience toward the Marjaiya [senior Shia clergy]. I did not join these elections so that I wouldn't be one of the West's pawns.

 

Muqtada al-Sadr commands the
loyalty of tens of thousands

"The West is so proud that they have held the elections but I would ask: Who is responsible for the blood that day?" he asked.

 

Al-Sadr was referring to the death of at least 36 Iraqi civilians and a security officer in attacks mounted as elections were held.

 

A majority of Shia, who make up about 55% of the population, voted in an affirmation of the political process championed by their most senior religious figure, Iranian-born Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani.

 

Al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army militia battled US troops for seven months last year before laying their arms down in October.