BAGHDAD - Influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on Wednesday the crisis Iraq was experiencing is over following de-escalation rhetoric from both Iran and the US and called on militia groups not to carry out attacks.
A new strong Iraqi government able to protect the nation's sovereignty and independence should be formed in the next 15 days and usher in an early election, the populist cleric said in a statement released on Twitter, adding that Iraqis should still seek to expel foreign troops, however.
"I call on the Iraqi factions to be deliberate, patient, and not to start military actions, and to shut down the extremist voices of some rogue elements until all political, parliamentary and international methods have been exhausted," he said.
The US and Iran stepped back from the brink of possible war Wednesday, as President Donald Trump indicated he would not respond militarily after no one was harmed in Iran's missile strike on two Iraqi bases housing US troops.
Speaking from the White House, Trump seemed intent on de-escalating the crisis, which reached a new height after he authorized the targeted killing last week of General Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Iran retaliated overnight with its most direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the US Embassy in Tehran, firing more than a dozen missiles from its territory at the installations in Iraq.
Trump credited an early warning system “that worked very well" for the fact that no Americans or Iraqis were killed. He added that Americans should be “extremely grateful and happy” with the outcome.
Trump, facing one of the greatest tests of his presidency, said Wednesday that Iran appeared to be “standing down” and said the US response would be to put in place new economic sanctions “until Iran changes its behaviour."
The strikes had pushed Tehran and Washington perilously close to all-out conflict and put the world's attention on Trump as he weighed whether to respond with more military force. The Republican president delivered his remarks surrounded by his national security advisers in the foyer of the White House. It came after a late-night tweet in which he insisted “All is well!” after the strikes.
US Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday the United States has received intelligence that Iran has asked its allied militias not to attack US targets.
"We're receiving some encouraging intelligence that Iran is sending messages to those very same militias not to move against American targets or civilians, and we hope that that message continues to echo," Pence told CBS News in an interview.
"I believe we are safer today than before President Trump ordered our military to take out Qasem Soleimani. This was a man who had been leading a terrorist state-sponsored organization in the region sowing violence, " said Pence
"But what President Trump, our commander in chief, demonstrated was we have a president who's also willing to use American military might to protect American lives," he added.