Iraqi radical Shiite cleric back to Iraq

09:56, January 06, 2011      

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Iraqi radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday returned home in the holy Shiite city of Najaf after years of exile in neighboring Iran, an official from Sadr office said.

"Sayyd Moqtada al-Sadr has arrived at his home in Najaf at noon, " the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

Sadr's return is the first since more than three years when he left the country to neighboring Iran and stayed in the holy Iranian city of Qom for Shiite religious studies.

Sadr, in his 30s, gained popularity among young Shiite Iraqis with his anti-U.S. rhetoric following the toppling of Saddam Hussein's government by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. His Mahdi Army militia battled U.S. troops and was the major party in the sectarian strife in Iraq that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

His return seems to be part of relief between his group and Maliki's Dawa Party, despite Maliki-led crackdown against Sadr's Mahdi Army in 2008.

Many Sadrists viewed Maliki's crackdown as a means to weaken his Shiite rivals and to facilitate the political benchmarks set by the U.S. administration before the country's provincial elections early in 2009.

However, the Sadr movement backed Maliki to take another term as prime minister during his struggle in 2010 against the Sunni- backed political bloc headed by secular politician Ayad Allawi.

Source: Xinhua
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