Anti-American Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has made his first public appearance since the start of a major U.S.-backed security crackdown in February.
The radical cleric attended Friday prayers at a mosque in the southern city of Kufa and delivered an anti-American sermon, telling worshippers that occupation forces should leave Iraq.
He also condemned the fighting between his Mahdi Army militia and Iraqi security forces, saying it "serves the interest of the occupiers."
U.S. military officials say that Sadr recently returned to southern Iraq after four months of hiding in Iran. His followers say the cleric never left Iraq.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced the deaths of six American soldiers, who were killed in roadside bombings and gun battles across Iraq this week.
The military said in statements issued Friday, five soldiers were killed in separate attacks Thursday in Baghdad and in three provinces north of the capital - Diyala, Salahuddin and Nineveh. It said another soldier was killed in a roadside bombing in Baghdad province on Tuesday.
Separately, the military says U.S. and Iraqi forces raided Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite Sadr City neighborhood early Friday and detained a suspect linked to the leader of a terrorist cell.
Meanwhile, thousands of American and Iraqi troops are continuing their search for two of three U.S. soldiers believed captured two weeks ago south of Baghdad by an al-Qaida linked terrorist group.
The body of the third soldier was pulled from the Euphrates River Wednesday. He has been identified as Private First Class Joseph Anzack Jr. from Torrance, California.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
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