He’s in Iraq. No, he’s in Iran. On a sight-seeing trip. Yeah, that’s the ticket:
An adviser to
Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday that radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is in Iran, but denied he fled due to fear of arrest during an escalating security crackdown.
Sami al-Askari said al-Sadr traveled to Iran by land “a few days ago,” but gave no further details on how long he would stay in Iran. A member of al-Sadr’s bloc in parliament, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals, said al-Sadr left three weeks ago.
“I confirm that Muqtada al-Sadr is in Iran on a visit,” said al-Askari. “But I deny that his visit is a flight.”
But another lawmaker loyal to al-Sadr, Saleh al-Ukaili, insisted that al-Sadr is in Iraq and claimed the accounts of his departure were part of a “campaign by the U.S. military” to track down the elusive cleric.
Conflicting reports on al-Sadr’s whereabouts have been exchanged for days.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have increased pressure on backers of the anti-American cleric and other militants in a major security operation that began in force this week.
The chief U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, said al-Sadr “is not in the country” and that “all indications are, in fact, that he is in Iran.” Al-Sadr’s supporters have insisted he was still in Iraq.
It was not immediately clear whether al-Sadr’s absence will lead to divisions among his loyalists, which include the Mahdi Army militia that has close ties to Iran. A splintering of his forces could lead to the emergence of smaller gangs vying for power among Iraq’s Shiite majority.
Caldwell said U.S. authorities have been tracking al-Sadr’s movements for months. He would not speculate on whether al-Sadr fled to escape the crackdown.
But the mercurial al-Sadr, who is not believed to have visited Baghdad in more than two years, often drops out of public view for weeks or months at a time. He failed to turn up for a planned speech Monday in the southern city of Najaf, where he lives, and has not been seen in public since Jan. 3.
Robert at Alphabet City concludes: “If Muqtada hasn’t fled, then perhaps his exit was arranged.”
Rick Moran’s got a good blog round-up and commentary.blog comments powered by Disqus
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