NAJAF, Iraq — Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday returned to his home city of Najaf in central Iraq after an absence abroad of about four years, a source in his movement said.
“Moqtada al-Sadr has returned to his home in Najaf. He arrived about 3:00 pm (1200 GMT) with several leaders from the Sadr movement,” the source said, adding that Sadr was not visiting but had returned to stay.
The source said Sadr had left Iraq at the end of 2006.
Sadr, the son of revered Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, has reportedly been pursuing religious studies in the Iranian holy city of Qom.
The cleric, who is said to be in his 30s, gained wide popularity among Shiites in Iraq in the months after the US-led invasion of 2003 and in 2004 his Mahdi Army militia battled US troops in two bloody conflicts.
In August 2008, he suspended the activities of his Mahdi Army, which once numbered in the tens of thousands, following major US and Iraqi assaults on its strongholds in Baghdad and southern Iraq in the spring of that year.
Sadr’s bloc won 39 out of the 325 parliamentary seats in Iraq’s March 7 polls, and has seven ministers in the national unity cabinet that was approved by parliament on December 21.
Deputy speaker of parliament Qussai Abdel Wahab al-Suhail is a member of Sadr’s bloc.
Sadr threw his weight behind Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki when the premier was tasked with forming a government following the March 7 vote.
Maliki while on a visit to Iran on October 18 met with Sadr in Qom.
Al-Alam TV reported on its website at the time that their talks focused on “the situation in Iraq, the alliance of Sadr’s group with Maliki’s State of Law bloc and details of forming the government in Iraq.”