News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqRadical Iraqi cleric said to be in Iran

Radical Iraqi cleric said to be in Iran

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AP: The United States knows for certain that radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is still living next door in Iran, a senior State Department official said Friday, disputing aides to the anti-American religious and political leader. Associated Press

By ANNE GEARAN

AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States knows for certain that radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is still living next door in Iran, a senior State Department official said Friday, disputing aides to the anti-American religious and political leader.

“We know he’s out of the country, we don’t (merely) think” so, said David Satterfield, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s top adviser for Iraq. “He’s in Iran, which is where he has been since mid-January.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Satterfield cited what he called several positive developments for U.S. forces and the Iraqi government in al-Sadr’s alleged absence, along with what he called political reversals for the cleric.

“I can’t speculate on why Muqtada al-Sadr has chosen to reside in Iran,” Satterfield said. “I can only note the political circumstances.”

U.S. officials have said that al-Sadr slipped out of Iraq during preparations for President Bush’s 12-week-old troop buildup and a joint U.S.-Iraqi security sweep that was focused on chaotic Baghdad.

They have not provided photos or other proof, generally citing the sensitivity of intelligence-gathering in Iraq.

Al-Sadr has not been seen in public in either country for months, but his aides insisted as recently as last month that the cleric is in Iraq. If so, it is not clear where. His home is in the holy city of Najaf, and the political stronghold of a powerful militia loyal to him is in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood.

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