BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP -Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr returned to Iraq on Sunday, cutting short a regional tour following the bombing of a holy Shiite shrine that triggered a deadly wave of sectarian violence, aides said.
Al-Sadr arrived in the southern Iraqi province of Basra from neighboring Iran, said Amer al-Husseini at al-Sadr’s Baghdad office. He was expected in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, his hometown, later in the day, al-Husseini said.
Hundreds of supporters welcomed al-Sadr at the boarder, chanting slogans, said Sheik Ali al-Assadi, al-Sadr’s representative in Basra. He said al-Sadr would visit several provinces on the way to Najaf.
Militiamen loyal to al-Sadr were believed to have taken part in a wave of reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques after Wednesday’s bombing of the Shiite Askariya shrine in the central city of Samarra. But the cleric also joined other religious leaders in appeals for calm.
On Saturday, Sunni and Shiite clerics, including al-Sadr followers, joined hands at a meeting in Baghdad where they agreed to prohibit the killing of Iraqis and defend each other’s mosques.
Al-Sadr was in Lebanon, his fifth stop on a Middle East tour, when the crisis started Wednesday. He cut short the trip and made his way back to Iraq via Iran.