BAGHDAD, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- The presence of U.S. military trainers in Iraq beyond the Dec. 31 deadline is an organized occupation, Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr said.
Baghdad last week said thousands of U.S. military trainers would stay behind to help the Iraqi military. U.S. forces, under the terms of a bilateral status of forces agreement with Baghdad, are required to leave Iraq by Dec. 31.
Sadr, an anti-American cleric, said in a message published by the Voices of Iraq new agency that the continued U.S. military presence was "an organized occupation in new attire."
Sadr was the target of U.S. forces in Iraq during the early stages of the war. Following a stay in Iran to pursue clerical studies, he's emerged as a major political force in post-war Iraq.
Baghdad said it wouldn't give remaining U.S. forces immunity from prosecution. Critics of the American presence in Iraq point to the prison abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib and the actions of some U.S. security contractors as a reason to be suspicious.
U.S. forces are offered some legal protection under the status of forces agreement. Pentagon officials have said that's customary protection in most bilateral military arrangements.