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February 13, 2007

US Officials: Moqtada Al-Sadr Has Fled To Iran
Update: CNN, ABCNews Both Reporting US Officials' Claims

CNN:

As details of the border closure with Syria became public, senior Bush administration officials were saying radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has been in Iran for the past two or three weeks.

Iraqi sources have not confirmed Sadr's departure, and a source close to the cleric told CNN that his presence in Iran is a "rumor."

As recently as Thursday, Sadr's office told CNN the cleric was in Najaf.

The U.S. officials said they did not know why Sadr had departed Iraq for Iran or how long he might stay. The officials suggested his departure was tied to the increase of American troops ordered by President Bush and that it could be a sign that he was in fear for his life.

Whatever the reason, it was not clear what effect Sadr's absence -- if he is, in fact, in Iran -- would have on his Mehdi Army.


More From ABCNews: A little bonus detail:

While members of the U.S. House of Representatives take turns weighing in on President Bush's planned troop surge in Iraq, the focus in Iraq is not on the arrival of more U.S. troops, but the departure of one of the country's most powerful men, Moqtada al Sadr and members of his army.

According to senior military officials al Sadr left Baghdad two to three weeks ago, and fled to Tehran, Iran, where he has family.

Al Sadr commands the Mahdi Army, one of the most formidable insurgent militias in Iraq, and his move coincides with the announced U.S. troop surge in Baghdad.

Sources believe al Sadr is worried about an increase of 20,000 U.S. troops in the Iraqi capital. One official told ABC News' Martha Raddatz, "He is scared he will get a JDAM [bomb] dropped on his house."

Sources say some of the Mahdi army leadership went with al Sadr.

Though he is gone for now, many think al Sadr is not gone for good. In Tehran he is trying to keep the Madhi militia together.

Thanks to JackStraw.


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