Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr urged supporters to resist all occupiers of Iraq and oppose the United States on Saturday, but not necessarily with arms.
In his first public speech since his homecoming on Wednesday after years of self-imposed exile in Iran, told his supporters to give Iraq's new government led by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki a chance.
"We are still fighters," said Sadr, who led two uprisings against the U.S. military after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and has called for an earlier U.S. withdrawal than the agreed deadline of the end of this year.
At the start of his speech, Sadr, whose Mehdi Army militia fought U.S. troops, asked his followers to chant "No, no to America" and to denounce Israel and reject all occupiers.
He labelled the United States, Israel and Britain "common enemies," and demanded that the Iraqi government, in which his movement will play a major role, honour a promise to end the U.S. occupation this year, as agreed.
He said arms were for "people of weapons only", a comment that seemed to endorse the authority of the army and the police and could calm fears of a revival of the Mehdi Army.
"Open the way before the new government to prove that it is for serving the people," he told thousands gathered in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf, where some had slept in the street outside his house for days.
His message energised his followers.
"We will shake the ground under the Americans, if they will not withdraw," Aqeel Faisal, a 40-year-old shopkeeper from the southern city of Basra, said in Najaf.
"We will also shake the ground under the government, if it fails to deliver its pledges to serve the Iraqi people," said Faisal, who came to get a glimpse of Sadr and hear his words.