Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr on Saturday exhorted his followers to resist the US occupation of Iraq by all means, in his first speech since returning to the country.
"We still resist the occupier, by military resistance, and all the means of resistance," Sadr told a boisterous crowd of thousands of Iraqis who gathered in the central Iraqi shrine city of Najaf.
But while he called for resistance against US troops, he also vowed that any other Iraqis would not be harmed by his forces.
"Our hand will not touch any Iraqi... we only target the occupier, by all means of resistance. We are one people. We don't agree with some groups that carry out assassinations," Sadr said.
The fiery, controversial cleric gained widespread popularity among Shia in the months after the 2003 US-led invasion, and his Mahdi Army militia later battled American and Iraqi government forces in several bloody confrontations.
But in August 2008, Sadr suspended the activities of the Mahdi Army, which once numbered in the tens of thousands, after major US and Iraqi assaults on its strongholds in Baghdad and southern Iraq in the spring.
Sadr left Iraq at the end of 2006, according to his movement, and had reportedly been pursuing religious studies in the Iranian holy city of Qom. He returned to his home city of Najaf on Wednesday.