NAJAF, Iraq (AFP) – Anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will remain in overall charge of his Shiite radical movement even as he steps back from its day-to-day operations to pursue his religious studies, aides said on Monday.
Sadr has no intention of quitting Iraqi politics despite the widespread perception that he was withdrawing after he admitted on Friday that there were splits within his movement, the aides said.
Sadr has “not ceased his contact with us and he remains in control of strategic decisions,” the head of the movement’s political bureau, Liwa Sumaysim, told AFP.
On Friday, the firebrand cleric admitted that some of the movement’s leaders had broken away after he ordered a six-month extension to a freeze on the activities of its Mahdi Army militia which he first announced last year.
“Many of my close companions have departed for worldly reasons, some of them want to be independent,” Sadr said.
“The fact that a number of people did not return to their hawza (religious school) and the fact that many are meddling in political lives while we thought they were loyal has made me isolate myself,” he said.
Sadr’s spokesman in the central shrine city of Najaf, Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi, said the cleric’s statement should not be seen as a decision to quit politics.
“The letter does not mean that Sadr wants to isolate himself from the political sphere,” Obeidi said.
He has “found a new way to deal with day-to-day issues, focusing on the essentials, which is knowledge and religion, and following the events from a distance.”
Another Sadr aide from Baghdad, Hazeam al-Araji, echoed the message.
“Sadr would never abandon the political scene and Iraq. He is in constant direct contact with the group,” Araji said.