Iraqi Shiite cleric says US military plans extended stay in Mideast

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BAGHDAD — U.S. plans to station troops across the Mideast after withdrawing from Iraq amount to occupying other Islamic countries, Iraq’s most outspoken anti-American cleric said in an interview broadcast Thursday.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said he’s not satisfied with President Barack Obama’s pledge to pull all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year, calling it a partial withdrawal because of the thousands of diplomats and security guards who will stay behind.

“The American occupation will stay in Iraq under different names,” al-Sadr told Al-Arabiya TV in his first interview since Obama announced the troop pullout last month.

Al-Sadr noted the Pentagon’s recent reminders that it will keep an estimated 40,000 troops across the region.

“America is not only occupying Iraq but also other Islamic countries,” he said. “Occupying Iraq means occupying what is around Iraq, and then to control the Middle East.”