Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

IN THE PAPERS

Requiem for a recorder

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

"The pen is mightier than the sword"

Read more

FOCUS

Israel's minorities and military service

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Russia targets McDonald's over tensions with West

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Ebola: Liberian authorities admit 17 patients are missing

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

'New York Post' slammed for publishing Foley execution images

Read more

DEBATE

Israel-Gaza: Back to Square One?

Read more

DEBATE

Israel-Gaza: Back to Square One? (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

Israel-Gaza conflict: 72-hour ceasefire deal sets stage for Cairo talks

Read more

  • US forces tried to rescue slain reporter from IS captors

    Read more

  • Israeli air strike kills three top Hamas commanders

    Read more

  • Interactive: Relive the Liberation of Paris in WWII

    Read more

  • Former Femen activist detained after fighting veiled woman

    Read more

  • Former Irish PM Albert Reynolds dies at 81

    Read more

  • Tensions high in Yemen as Shiite rebel deadline looms

    Read more

  • Thailand coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha voted prime minister

    Read more

  • Deadly street battles hit Ukrainian rebel stronghold

    Read more

  • US attorney general visits Missouri town after fatal shooting

    Read more

  • French village rallies behind besieged elderly British couple

    Read more

  • Brazil’s Silva launches bid after Campos plane crash death

    Read more

  • Netanyahu compares Hamas to IS, Gaza offensive to continue

    Read more

  • Brutal IS beheading video sparks social media pushback

    Read more

  • France’s ex-PM Juppé sets up presidential clash with Sarkozy

    Read more

  • France’s Hollande says global security ‘worst since 2001’

    Read more

Middle east

Anti-US cleric al-Sadr returns to Iraq

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-01-05

Infamous Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, blamed for a string of bloody uprisings against American forces in 2007, returned to Iraq Wednesday after warming relations between his faction and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

AP - Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who led several Shiite uprisings against American forces in Iraq before going into exile in neighboring Iran almost four years ago, has returned to Iraq, officials said Wednesday.

Al-Sadr’s return caps another dramatic rise to prominence for him and his followers after being routed by Iraqi and U.S. forces and appearing to fade from power just a few years ago. The strong showing by his bloc in last year’s parliamentary elections and his key support for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki paved the way for Wednesday’s return.

It was not immediately clear how long al-Sadr would stay in Iraq or whether the return marked a permanent decision to remain in the country, where his presence would mark a seismic shift in Iraqi politics.
 
A Sadrist official in Baghdad, Mohammed al-Kaabi, said al-Sadr was in the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad at his family home and that he was on his way to visit the 36-year-old cleric.
 
An official with al-Maliki’s office confirmed a plane carrying al-Sadr flew into the southern city earlier Wednesday afternoon. He did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.
 
Hundreds of al-Sadr’s followers were gathering at his house. Others flocked to the holy shrine of Imam Ali, revered among the country’s Shiite majority, amid reports that al-Sadr had traveled to the shrine and visited his father’s grave before going home.
 
Al-Sadr has not been seen publicly in Iraq since 2007, and at one point an arrest warrant even hung over al-Sadr’s head for his alleged role in assassinating a fellow Shiite cleric seen as a rival shortly after the U.S. invasion in 2003.
 
He has been living in Iran, studying Islam in Qom, the seat of Shiite education, and rarely makes public visits abroad. Last fall, he traveled to Syria for a meeting with former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who was challenging al-Maliki for the premiership.
 
His militia, called the Mahdi Army, once led bloody uprisings against American forces, and al-Sadr has made opposition to any continued American military presence in Iraq a cornerstone of his ideology. The feared Mahdi Army was blamed by Sunnis for some of the worst sectarian violence in 2006-2007.
 
Al-Maliki in 2008 launched an offensive against al-Sadr’s followers in their Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City and the southern city of Basra. The show of force infuriated many of his Shiite allies but also demonstrated al-Maliki’s willingness to go after all militias, even those representing his own sect.
 
Hundreds of al-Sadr’s followers were jailed during those operations.
 
Enmity between al-Sadr and al-Maliki runs deep, but after months of vowing to never allow al-Maliki to return for a second term, al-Sadr and his followers eventually backed him.
 
The decision is believed to have been taken after intense pressure from neighboring Iran, which would like to solidify Shiite control of Iraq. But questions have also been raised about what al-Sadr and his followers received for their support. Iraqi officials have said that hundreds of his followers have been released from jail - a key Sadrist demand.
 
Iraqis in many southern provinces and parts of eastern Baghdad where the Sadrists dominate have reported intimidation by Sadrist members who are feeling more powerful in light of their alliance with their one-time enemy and their triumphant return to Iraqi politics.
 
Iraqi political analyst Hadi Jalo told The Associated Press that the return of the man reviled by American forces also underscores the U.S.’s waning political influence in Iraq as American forces prepare to leave the country entirely by the end of this year.
 
“Now, the anti-U.S. political figures, whether Shiite or Sunnis, are feeling that they are more confident now and their role in shaping Iraq’s future is expanding. The Iraqi government is ready more than ever to accept and include figures known for their anti-U.S. stances,” he said. “The Sadrists now are politically stronger than ever and they are aware of their importance in Iraq’s political life.”

Date created : 2011-01-05

COMMENT(S)