HOME About Blog Contact Hotel Links Donations Registration
NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

U.S. military says cleric Sadr in Iran

BAGHDAD, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has left Iraq and is in Iran, the U.S. military said on Wednesday, after the cleric's aides denied earlier reports he had departed to avoid an offensive against militants.

"All indications are in fact that he is in Iran and he left last month," U.S. military spokesman Major-General William Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad.

Earlier, four of Sadr's aides rejected suggestions by unidentified U.S. officials in Washington that the cleric had left to escape the crackdown, saying he was still in Iraq and keeping a low profile in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf.

"We are tracking Moqtada al-Sadr very closely," Caldwell said.

Washington says Sadr's Mehdi Army militia is the biggest threat to Iraq's security and has urged Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to disarm it.

But Maliki relies on Sadr for political support. Sadr's movement holds a quarter of the parliamentary seats in the ruling Shi'ite Alliance.

The conflicting reports over the anti-American cleric's whereabouts came after Iraq said on Tuesday it would close its borders with Iran and Syria and lengthen a night curfew in Baghdad to try to curb unrelenting violence in the capital.

Some of Sadr's aides said he had reduced public appearances for "security reasons". They did not elaborate.

"He is now in Iraq," said Nassar al-Rubaei, head of the Sadrist bloc in Iraq's parliament, reiterating the Sadrists backing for an offensive in Baghdad that is seen as a final attempt to prevent all-out sectarian civil war.

"We fully support this security plan. It would make no sense for our leadership to escape it."

Iran's IRNA news agency quoted an official who denied Sadr had arrived in the Islamic Republic.

The youthful firebrand cleric has been keeping a low profile in recent months because of worsening security in Iraq. He normally lives in Najaf -- not Baghdad -- but his stronghold is the capital's sprawling Shi'ite slum called Sadr City.

Two U.S. officials in Washington spoke to Reuters about Sadr after the ABC News network reported he had fled to Iran because of fears he might be targeted by U.S. bombing raids and worries over his safety because of fracturing within his movement.

Administration officials said Sadr's departure may have been prompted by President George W. Bush's plan to add 21,500 troops in Iraq to help the Baghdad crackdown.
Web IntelligenceSummit.org
Webmasters: Intelligence, Homeland Security & Counter-Terrorism WebRing
Copyright © IHEC 2008. All rights reserved.       E-mail info@IntelligenceSummit.org