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Iraq's Muqtada Sadr reportedly returns to Iran

Anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr has left Iraq, aides said, adding that it was not clear whether his return to Iran was temporary or permanent. He had returned to Iraq this month.

January 21, 2011|A Times Staff Writer

Reporting from Baghdad — Anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, who arrived in Iraq this month after spending nearly four years away, has returned to Iran, two aides from his office said Friday on condition of anonymity.

Sadr left Iraq Thursday or Friday, the aides said, adding that it was not clear whether his return to Iran was temporary or permanent.

In early 2007, Sadr, who had influenced many Shiite Muslims in Iraq to oppose American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, moved to Iran to focus on his religious studies, with the goal of advancing in Shiite Islam's religious hierarchy. His militant organization twice battled against the U.S. military in 2004 and was blamed for some of the worst sectarian violence in Iraq's civil war.

Sadr demobilized most of his militia fighters, however, and his followers won 40 seats in parliament last March. Sadr has endorsed the current government, in which his supporters head eight ministries. He has promised to support the government as long as it works for the general population and moves to end the American troop presence in Iraq. All U.S. forces are scheduled to leave the country by the end of this year.

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