An anonymous U.S. official said on Tuesday that prominent Shiite cleric and Iraqi political figure Moqtada al-Sadr had fled to Iran in order to escape either an American crackdown or fringe elements of his own militia. But several Iraqi officials on Wednesday, also speaking anonymously, said al-Sadr was still in Iraq.
The head of al-Sadr’s coalition in parliament confirmed that he remains in Iraq, but reports from other representatives suggest there is cause for concern over his safety. A disinformation campaign regarding the cleric’s whereabouts could be responsible for the Iran rumor, and he is said to sleep in a different bed every night.
Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr said Wednesday that the radical Shiite cleric was still in
Iraq, denying a report that he fled to Iran ahead of a security crackdown targeting his militia.
An Iraqi government official said al-Sadr was in the Shiite holy city of Najaf Tuesday night, when he received delegates from several government departments. The official, who is familiar with one of those meetings, spoke on condition of anonymity because he has no authority to disclose information on his department’s activities.
The denials came after a senior U.S. official said Tuesday that al-Sadr left his Baghdad stronghold some weeks ago and is believed to be in Tehran, where he has family.
The official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. monitoring activities, said fractures in al-Sadr’s political and militia operations may be part of the reason for his departure. The move is not believed to be permanent, the official said.