A famous Iraqi cleric is urging his followers to resist all "occupiers" in the country, singling out the United States, Israel and Britain as "enemies."


Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks Saturday in Najaf, south of Baghdad, during his first public appearance since returning from nearly four years of self-imposed exile in Iran. ((Karim Kadim/Associated Press))

Muqtada al-Sadr delivered the message Saturday in his first public address in Iraq after nearly four years of self-imposed exile in Iran.

Addressing a rally of thousands of supporters in the holy city of Najaf, the Shia cleric, 37, led chanting and urged followers to continue resisting the "occupation" of Iraq.

"We have not forgotten the occupier. We're still resisting," he said. " We're still resisting the occupier through military and cultural resistance and all other forms of resistance. Repeat after me: 'No, no to the occupiers.'"

Al-Sadr called on the newly formed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to make sure all U.S. forces leave Iraq by the end of 2011 as planned.

"The new government must work to get the occupier out of the country, in a suitable way," he said. "We heard a pledge from the government in this regard, and we are waiting for it to honour its word."

The cleric's militia, the Mahdi army, once battled U.S. forces in Iraq, but al-Sadar has been in Iran studying Islam in the city of Qom and has not been seen publicly in Iraq since 2007.