Special report: Tension escalates in Iraq
BAGHDAD, March 25 (Xinhua) -- Iraq's radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr Tuesday called on Iraqis to hold sit-ins across Iraq if attacks by U.S. and Iraqi troops continue against his followers, a Sadr statement said.
"We call on all Iraqis to stage sit-ins in all over the country as a first step, so if the government would not respect our people's demands, the second step would be civil disobedience in Baghdad and all other provinces," Sadr said in a statement read out by senior aide Hazim al-Araji.
The statement warned that there would be a third step, but he did not specify what it would be, only saying "after that we will wait for the third step, which will be declared in time."
Late on Monday, Mazin al-Saadi, a spokesman for the Sadr office in al-Karkh area in western Baghdad, said that sit-ins began in some areas in Karkh and would move to other areas in Baghdad as well as other provinces if the government fails to meet the demands of Sadrists.
Saadi said that Sadr's main demands are to release the Sadr followers who have been detained by the U.S. and Iraqi security forces and present an official apology on these arrests and raids against their strongholds.
"There would be other options if the government failed to respond to these demands," said Saadi, without telling what exactly are those options.
However, the Iraqi government on Tuesday warned against any call for civil disobedience that would threaten peace and stability.
"The cabinet has met today and warned whoever calls for civil disobedience, which is an unconstitutional practice that would threatens peace and stability and paralyzes public activities," government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh told reporters.
Sadr's statement came one day after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki paid a visit to the southern city of Basra to supervise a major offensive dubbed "Operation Cavalry Assault" with the aim of restoring order in the city where instability was spreading.
Sadr followers have a strong presence in the Iraqi second largest city, some 550 km south of Baghdad.