Muqtada al-Sadr is back in Iraq, returning this morning after spending at least four-years of self-imposed exile in Iran, where he has ostensibly been pursuing religious studies. It isn’t yet clear whether he’s back for good or if this is just a fleeting visit to Najaf. Chances are that he’ll return to Iran to continue his religious studies, lest his credibility takes a hit – why else, his supporters and opponents may ask, has he spent so many years in Iran if it wasn’t for his theological studies? His representatives have rejected suggestions that he left Iraq because he feared for his life or because of an arrest warrant that was issued against him for the murder of Sayyid Abdul-Majid Khoei in 2003, one of Iraq’s leading Shi’a clerics. For him to stay without having attained any religious credentials would strengthen and give credence to these arguments, as well as point toward a grand deal that may have been struck between him and his rival and arch-enemy, Prime Minister Maliki and the Islamic Da’wa Party.
It is also significant that this trip was made public, given that he has secretly returned on previous occasions. Change may indeed be on the horizon.
Anti-U.S. Shi’ite cleric visits Iraq after years
By Khaled Farhan, REUTERS
NAJAF, Iraq | Wed Jan 5, 2011 9:09am EST
NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) – Anti-U.S. Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr returned to Iraq on Wednesday from years of self-imposed exile in Iran, after his movement struck a deal to be part of a new government, Sadrist officials said.
Mazan al-Sadi, a Sadrist cleric in Baghdad, said Sadr, whose movement battled U.S. forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, was visiting the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq.
“I am on my way to Najaf. The first thing that Moqtada did was to visit the Imam Ali Shrine, the grave of his father, and then he went to his family house in Hanana,” Sadi said.
Ahmed al-Khalidi, the media official at Sadr’s office in Najaf, confirmed the cleric was in the city.
Sadr, the scion of a Shi’ite religious family, galvanized anti-U.S. sentiment following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and led two uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004.
He fled Iraq sometime between 2006-7 after an arrest warrant was issued for him.
The cleric’s Mehdi Army, once a feared militia, has largely laid down its arms but U.S. military officials and many Sunni Arabs still regard it with suspicion.
The Mehdi Army was blamed for many of the sectarian killings that ravaged Iraq after the invasion.
Sadr’s political movement secured a deal to be part of Iraq’s new government after supporting incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for a second term in office.
It has 39 seats in the new parliament and will get seven ministries.