NAJAF, (AFP) — Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has returned to Iran after having only arrived in Iraq around two weeks ago, two senior officials within his movement said Saturday.
“He left Iraq on Thursday to go back to Iran,” an aide to the firebrand cleric told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “That’s all we can tell you.”
Another senior official within the movement, who also did not want to be named, confirmed that Sadr left on Thursday for the Islamic Republic, but neither official would comment on the reasons for the cleric’s departure.
Sadr returned to the holy Iraqi shrine city of Najaf on January 5 after four years of self-imposed exile in Iran, with a source in his movement at the time saying he was not visiting but had come to stay.
Shortly afterwards he called on his supporters to resist the US “occupation” by all means.
He had left Iraq at the end of 2006 or early in 2007, according to US and Iraqi officials, and had reportedly been pursuing religious studies in the Iranian holy city of Qom.
The fiery, controversial Sadr gained widespread popularity among Shiites in the months after the 2003 US-led invasion, and his Mahdi Army militia later battled American and Iraqi government forces in several bloody confrontations.
But in August 2008, Sadr suspended the activities of the Mahdi Army, which once numbered in the tens of thousands, after major US and Iraqi assaults on its strongholds in Baghdad and southern Iraq in the spring.