London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iraqi sources in Najaf and Beirut confirmed the validity of information published by Asharq al-Awsat yesterday, which detailed the intention of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist movement, to leave Iran and resettle in Lebanon. This is in order to escape from Iranian pressure, which is pushing for his approval of the nomination of Nuri al-Maliki, leader of the State of Law Coalition and outgoing Prime Minister, for a second term in office.
The sources, who preferred to remain unnamed, spoke to Asharq al-Awsat via telephone yesterday, from the cities of Najaf and the Lebanese capital Beirut. They said that “Muqtada al-Sadr would prefer to return to Iraq and settle in his hometown of Najaf, and resume his work in ‘Al-Brani’ [office of a religious cleric], which serves as his office to meet guests and followers. However conditions in Iraq are not currently suitable for his return”. Furthermore, the sources revealed that “al-Sadr used to occupy the same office as that of his father, Shiite cleric Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, who was murdered with his two sons in the centre of Najaf city in February 1999, by the security services of Saddam Hussein”.
The sources added that “the leader of the Sadrist Movement [al-Sadr] hopes to return to Najaf, but he believes that the conditions are not currently appropriate. He will return when al-Maliki is no longer Prime Minister, as he [al-Maliki] fought against supporters of the Sadrist Movement and arrested many of them, who are still detained”. The sources revealed that “the attempts and communications made towards al-Sadr, through al-Maliki, head of the State of Law Coalition, were conducted by Iranian and Iraqi mediators in order to clear the air between the two leaders. However, all these attempts have failed because of the cleric’s insistence on not meeting and reconciling with al-Maliki. In particular, [he refuses to reconcile with] the leaders of the Dawa Party, headed by al-Maliki, because they described supporters of the Sadrist movement as militias. One of the initiatives, offered by the State of Law Coalition to the Sadrist movement, was al-Maliki’s readiness as Commander in Chief of the armed forces to release the detained followers of al-Sadr, but this was rejected”.
The source noted that “the decision by members of the Sadrist Movement to not attend an Iftar dinner hosted by al-Maliki the day before yesterday, for the Iraqi National Coalition, which was attended by Ammar al-Hakim, head of the Islamic Supreme Council along with a number of leaders of the Council, was a clear message indicating the impossibility of reconciliation between the Sadrists and the President of the outgoing government, and a refusal to accept his nomination to head the next government”.
Al-Sadr has directed sharp criticism towards al-Maliki, describing him as ‘false’, and considering what has been achieved during his time in office as a ‘failure’. He said this during a television interview, in which he also claimed “al-Maliki arrested my supporters and imprisoned them, calling them terrorists…then he lies [about their imprisonment], and tries to substantiate his lie, by saying we have released them from prison”. He added that the number of his supporters detained in Iraqi prisons is estimated at 2,000. Some of them have been accused of encouraging a sectarian war, whilst others have been accused of being rebels. Al-Sadr explained, in an interview that had been conducted with him at his residence in Iran, after the election results, that “A State of Law delegation came to me here offering their [Sadrist prisoners] release, but I refused to incorporate the detainees’ papers into talks of forming a new government, because this government is not obliged to release them”.
The sources confirmed that “al Sadr rejected all pressures and proposals made by Iranian officials, including political and material incentives for his approval of the nomination of al-Maliki. These days he is seriously planning to go to Lebanon and it is possible to relocate to Beirut”. The sources pointed out that “the first and last decision of the Sadrist movement is the decision of its leader, Muqtada al-Sadr”.
Meanwhile, Iraqi sources in Beirut indicated that “al-Sadr has offices and property in Beirut, which are ready and prepared to receive him at any time he decides to access them”. They highlighted that “the two sons of his brother Mustafa, who was killed along with his father and brother in Najaf in 1999, are studying at the American University there, and his cousin Jaafar Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who was nominated by the Sadrists to head the government, also lives in Beirut”.
The sources reported that Muqtada al-Sadr himself has a house in the Lebanese capital, without indicating the type of housing, whether it is a mansion, villa or apartment, and without mentioning its specific location. They revealed that “al-Sadr frequents Beirut from time to time, without announcing his visit”.
The sources ruled out the idea that al-Sadr would be the guest of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, or that he would live in southern Lebanon, because “al-Sadr does not want to be subject to the control of new authorities, having been liberated from Iranian control, just as he is not closely linked with Nasrallah”. They reported that Muqtada al-Sadr has been a resident of the Iranian city of Qom since 2007, “for the purpose of studying to obtain a high level Shia degree”. However, according to Iraqi sources in the city of Qom, “Iranian authorities are entrusted with his protection and maintaining the confidentiality of his residence, where only a limited number of his followers [can] meet him”.