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NEW SADR ARMY TO FIGHT US

KUFA: Hardline Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al Sadr will set up a new force to battle US troops."We will not stop resisting the occupation until liberation or martyrdom," Sadr told his more than 60,000-strong Mahdi Army militia.

The fight against US troops will now be waged only by the new group, while other members will "take on a social and religious role," Sadr said in a statement which was read out at mosques in the holy Shi'ite town of Kufa.

The announcement came amid controversy in Iraq and in neighbouring Iran over negotiations between Baghdad and Washington for a new pact to cover the US military presence when a UN mandate expires at the end of the year.

Talks on the pact are at a stalemate because of US demands that encroached on Iraq's sovereignty, said Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki, who is visiting Jordan.

Sadr spokesman Salah Al Obeidi said the action was aimed at building a more comprehensive movement that could better serve its followers.

"Sadr's view is to take the Mahdi Army on the path of social and cultural activities."



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