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Like Al-Sadr, Mahdi Army Leaders Run To Iran

From South Africa’s Mail & Guardian:

Mehdi army commanders withdraw to Iran

15 February 2007 08:46

Senior commanders of the Mehdi army, the militia loyal to the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, have been spirited away to Iran to avoid being targeted in the new security push in Baghdad, a high-level Iraqi official told the Guardian on Wednesday.

On the day the Iraqi government formally launched its crackdown on insurgents and amid disputed claims about the whereabouts of al-Sadr, the official said the Mehdi army leadership had withdrawn across the border into Iran to regroup and retrain.

"Over the last three weeks, they [Iran] have taken away from Baghdad the first and second-tier military leaders of the Mehdi army," he said. The aim of the Iranians was to "prevent the dismantling of the infrastructure of the Shia militias" in the Iraqi capital — one of the chief aims of the United States-backed security drive.

"The strategy is to lie low until the storm passes, and then let them return and fill the vacuum," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Tehran authorities were "playing a waiting game" until the commanders could return to Baghdad and resume their activities. "All indications are that Moqtada is in Iran, but that is not really the point," he added…

The Mehdi army has launched two failed uprisings against US troops and has been linked to death squads preying on Sunnis. The new security operation in Baghdad will be the third attempt by US forces and their Iraqi allies to end violence that soared following the bombing of the sacred Shia shrine in Samarra a year ago.

"They [the Iranians] are calculating that the security operation will continue for a certain period of time, and that it will do serious damage to the Sunni jihadists and the insurgents," the official said. "While in Iran they will be able to get more training and then once the Sunnis have been pacified, they plan to return."

The claims appeared to be partially confirmed in the holy city of Najaf, south of the capital, on Wednesday by a senior figure in the Mehdi army, Karim al-Moussawi. He said most of the militia leaders had gone to Iran, but on their own initiative. "They were neither ordered to go by Sayid Moqtada nor invited to enter by the Iranian authorities," he said. "Simply they were seeking sanctuary as individuals from expected targeting by the US occupying forces during the security drive in Baghdad." A number of commanders had also gone to Najaf and the southern provinces, he added. "The US forces should be targeting the real terrorists," he said…

Reports of the vanishing Mehdi fighters came amid mounting speculation over the whereabouts of al-Sadr. The chief US military spokesperson in Baghdad said the anti-Western cleric had fled to Iran.

"He is in Iran and he left last month," said Major General William Caldwell. US forces were tracking him "very closely", he said.

The assertion was hotly contested by senior members of the Sadr movement, who said their leader had been in Najaf meeting local officials. One pro-al-Sadr satellite channel showed footage of al-Sadr that it said was taken in Najaf three days ago. Falah al-Akaily, a pro-Sadr MP, said: "This is just a rumour sent around to confuse people. Sayid Moqtada is available and has not left Iraq. Why would he need to do so? The movement has declared its support for the security crackdown and its full cooperation in defeating the terrorists."

A statement by the al-Sadr movement’s office in Sadr City accused the US of playing games: "This is a lie put out as part of a psychological and media campaign by the US occupation to hurt the reputation of the brave national leader." …

Yes, these brave leaders who courageously attack unarmed civilians, but who flee at the first sign of a real fight.

Meanwhile, from al-Sadr’s concerned friends at the Associated Press:

Iraq adviser: al-Sadr in Iran

By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA

BAGHDAD, Iraq – An adviser to Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday that radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is in Iran, but denied he fled due to fear of arrest during an escalating security crackdown. Sami al-Askari said al-Sadr traveled to Iran by land "a few days ago," but gave no further details on how long he would stay. A member of al-Sadr’s bloc in parliament, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals, said he left three weeks ago.

"I confirm that Muqtada al-Sadr is in Iran on a visit," said al-Askari. "But I deny that his visit is a flight."

Another lawmaker loyal to al-Sadr, Saleh al-Ukaili, insisted that al-Sadr is in Iraq and claimed the accounts of his departure were part of a "campaign by the U.S. military" to track down the elusive cleric…

No, of course he’s not running away. He’s just taking a well-deserved vacation after all that drudgery of overseeing the kidnapping and torturing and murdering of so many of his fellow Muslims.

Hey, while the troops are at it, it sounds like there are some blocs in Parliament that need to be cleaned out as well.

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, February 15th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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