Radical cleric returns to Iraq as hero
Updated: 14:24, Thursday January 6, 2011
Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has returned to Iraq for a hero's welcome after nearly four years outside the country.
'Moqtada al-Sadr has returned to his home in Najaf. He arrived about 3:00 pm (2300 AEDT) with several leaders from the Sadr movement,' a source in his movement said, adding Sadr was not More.. visiting but had returned to stay.
Sadr, whose forces led a fierce insurgency against US forces in the years after the 2003 American-led invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein, had left Iraq at the end of 2006.
The son of revered Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, Sadr had 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 Shi'ites 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.
Known for the black 'sayyid' and beard to match, the young cleric was identified by the Pentagon in 2006 as the biggest threat to stability in Iraq.
His militia became the most active and feared armed Shi'ite group, blamed by Washington for death-squad killings of thousands of Sunnis.
But 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.
Following the ceasefire, US military commanders praised him, saying his action has been instrumental in helping bring about a significant decrease in the levels of violence across Iraq.
Sadr later threw his weight behind Maliki when the premier was tasked with forming a government following the election.
His bloc now holds seven cabinet posts - Housing and Construction, Labour and Social Affairs, Water Resources, a minister of state for Tourism and Archaeology, and two ministers without portfolio - 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's father and two brothers were killed in 1999 by gunmen allegedly sent by dictator Saddam Hussein, who was ousted in the US invasion of 2003.
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