Kerry Calls al-Sadr Voice 'Legitimate'
11:58 am PST, 7 April 2004
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry on Wednesday called the voice of militant Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr "legitimate," setting off a firestorm of protest from a number of American political quarters.
Kerry, in an interview with National Public Radio, said of a newspaper owned by al-Sadr, which was shut down last week after it urged violence against U.S. troops, "They shut a newspaper that belongs to a legitimate voice in Iraq."
The Massachusetts senator quickly reversed himself, however, adding the imam was aligning himself with known terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah. Kerry could not completely condemn those groups, either.
"Well, let me . . . change the term legitimate. It belongs to a voice — because he has clearly taken on a far more radical tone in recent days and aligned himself with both Hamas and Hezbollah, which is a sort of terrorist alignment," he said in the NPR segment.
Kerry's comments--first reported by the New York Sun--come amid escalating violence in several Iraqi cities, including Fallujah, which U.S. military officials say is being directed by al-Sadr.
Military sources say fighting inspired by the imam has left some 30 U.S. troops and at least 130 Iraqis dead.
Kerry also wavered somewhat when asked whether he supported al-Sadr's arrest.
"Not if it's an isolated act without the other kinds of steps necessary to change the dynamics on the ground in Iraq," Kerry said, according to the Sun.
On March 28, the U.S.-led coalition authorities closed al-Sadr's newspaper, al-Hawza, for 60 days, the Sun reported.