SAMEER N. YACOUB Associated Press Writer BAGHDAD
A Shiite cleric whose followers have been blamed in some of Iraq's worst violence gave a cautious welcome today to the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from cities. Muqtada al-Sadr said he was "filled with hope" but expressed concern that some Americans will remain in urban areas. The U.S. mi l i tary was required to pull back combat troops from cities by Tuesday as part of a security pact that calls for a full withdrawal of American forces by the end of 2011. But some 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq and the military said a small number of them will stay in cities as trainers and advisers at the request of the Iraqi government. The military also has said it will continue to provide intelligence, air power, medical and logistical assistance to Iraq's fledgling, 650,000-member security force. U.S. troops will go back into cities on missions only if requested by the Iraqis. The anti-U.S. cleric sought to cast the move as a victory for those who have opposed the American presence in Iraq. "If it is a real withdrawal, then it is a medal of honor and a bright page in the history of honest Iraqi resistance that has been giving everything for the sake of liberating and serving its people and land," he says in a statement posted on his Web page. But al-Sadr, who is believed to be in Iran, said the decision to keep some U.S. troops in cities shows the government and the U.S. "are not serious" about the timelines. "If the occupation forces breach the claimed withdrawal even with the government's cover, then the people have the right to express their opinion by peaceful means and the right of selfdefense in a way that does not harm the Iraqi people or security forces," he added.