London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The situation in the city of Al-Najaf has intensified following Friday’s assassination of the brother-in-law of Muqtada al-Sadr by unidentified gunmen and while the authorities imposed a curfew in the city for fear of acts of violence, Al-Sadr called on the government “to carry out a fair investigation” of the assassination of Riyad al-Nuri, the director of his office, after the Friday prayers. On its part, the Iraqi Government condemned the assassination and Al-Sadr Trend Spokesman Salah al-Ubaydi said “Muqtada al-Sadr asked the government to carry out a fair investigation and reveal the parties behind the incident.”
Unidentified gunmen assassinated Riyad al-Nuri, the director of Al-Sadr’s office and his brother-in-law, near his house in Al-Najaf, only two days after Al-Sadr’s arrival in the city after having left the Iranian city of Qom “secretly” on the orders of the Iranian authorities, according to statements made by authoritative Iraqi sources in Qom and Al-Najaf to Asharq Al-Awsat. These sources said Al-Nuri led exactly five years ago an armed attack on the moderate Shiite cleric Abdul-Majid al-Khoei, the secretary general of the Imam al-Khoei Foundation, inside Al-Haydariyah shrine. al-Khoei and Haydar al-Rufayi, the official in charge of the administration of the Imam Ali shrine, were killed in the attack which took place only one day after the collapse of former regime.
The Iraqi sources in Qom and Al-Najaf asserted that the Iranian authorities informed Al-Sadr of the need to leave their territories because of the security problems he had caused in Iraq following the armed clashes between the pro-Al-Sadr “Al-Mahdi Army” militia and Iraqi forces in Basra, Baghdad, Al-Diwaniyah, Karbala, and Al-Kut. They added that moderate officials in Iran denounced Al-Sadr’s presence in their territories saying that this was causing problems with the Iraqi Government and that “affects the course of relations between Tehran and Baghdad.”
Iraqi sources in Al-Najaf said Al-Sadr “arrived from Qom the night before yesterday and stayed at the house of one of his aides, where his supporters were banned from reaching him, after being forced to stay for six months in an isolated house on the outskirts of the Iranian city of Qom.”
An Iranian official last week denied that Al-Sadr was in Iranbut Ali al-Adib, a leading member of Al-Da’wah Party told Asharq Al-Awsat that he met him in Qom less than a week ago.
In other news, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh vowed on Sunday that Iraqi forces will battle militiamen in Sadr City relentlessly until the sprawling Shiite district of east Baghdad has been cleared of gunmen.
“We will continue until we secure Sadr City. We will not come out, we will not give up until the people of Sadr City have a normal life,” Dabbagh told AFP.
“(The security forces) will do what they have to do to secure the area. I can’t tell you how many days or how many months but they will not come out until they have secured Sadr City.”
Raging battles between US and Iraqi forces and Mahdi Army militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have killed around 80 people in the impoverished township since Sunday last week, and the army has warned the streets are littered with booby-traps laid by gunmen.
Sadr’s movement has accused US forces of being behind the killing, and the cleric lashed out at Robert Gates late on Saturday, saying the American defence secretary will always remain his enemy because he is the occupier of Iraq.
Sadr also urged his fighters not to target Iraqis “as long as they don’t help the occupier.”