BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is establishing a new fighting force to battle U.S.-led troops in Iraq, he said in a letter read in Iraqi mosques Friday.
Muqtada al-Sadr says his new group will focus exclusively on battling U.S.-led forces in Iraq.
Al-Sadr’s letter said that “the resistance will be exclusively conducted by only one group. This new group will be defined soon by me.”
Al-Sadr’s militia, the Mehdi Army, has a strong and ubiquitous presence in Shiite cities, towns and neighborhoods.
Sources familiar with al-Sadr said they believe he’s trying to embrace what the U.S. calls “Special Groups” — Iran-backed Shiite militants, including rogue Mehdi Army members, who have been fighting U.S.-led troops despite a cease-fire that the cleric declared in August.
The mainstream Mehdi Army has operated under the cease-fire, which dramatically reduced violence in Iraq. During that time, however, there has been fighting between U.S. and Iraqi troops and members of the Mehdi Army, with many of the battles this spring in the southern city of Basra and Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood.
In the latest fighting overnight, American-led coalition forces killed five and arrested two Special Groups members near Hilla, south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.
In the letter, al-Sadr said, “The weapons will be held exclusively by this new group, and they should be pointed exclusively at the occupier,” adding that he will forbid the group “to target anyone else.”
The letter added, “We will not stop resisting the occupation until liberation or martyrdom.”