Moqtada al-Sadr returned Wednesday to Iraq for a hero's welcome in his stronghold of Najaf
"After nearly four years outside the country, an AFP correspondent said, "Moqtada al-Sadr has returned to his home in Najaf. He arrived about 3:00 pm (1200 GMT) with several leaders from the Sadr movement," a source in his movement said, adding Sadr was not visiting but had returned to stay.
Hundreds of supporters took to the streets of Al-Hanana neighbourhood in Najaf, the central Iraq shrine city where Sadr's home is located, to celebrate the cleric's return watched on by security forces.
"I cannot express my happiness when I heard the news of Moqtada's arrival," said Mohamed Hussein, 33, a Najaf resident. "I came running to be sure that Sayyid Moqtada is in Najaf."
"I couldn't believe that Sadr is in Najaf," said Ahmed Kadhim, 44, also a resident of the city.
"I came to Al-Hanana to be sure of the news."
The cleric, who is said to be in his 30s, gained wide popularity among Shiites 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.
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 Shiite group, and was 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 said his action had been instrumental in helping bring about a significant decrease in the levels of violence across Iraq.
Despite only rare appearances in public, the cleric is idolised by millions of Shiites, especially in the Najaf where he has his headquarters and the impoverished Baghdad neighbourhood of Sadr City.
Politically, Sadr showed he could pull powerful strings even though out of the country.
After throwing his weight behind Shiite politician Nuri al-Maliki in 2006, ensuring he became prime minister, Sadr then ordered his followers to pull out of the premier's cabinet a year later, almost bringing down the government.
Deputy speaker of parliament Qussai Abdel Wahab al-Suhail is a member of Sadr's bloc.
Sadr's bloc now holds six 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.
Sadr, who wore the black turban of a "sayyid," or descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, visited the shrine of Imam Ali, one of the most revered sites in Shiite Islam, around 5:00 pm (1400 GMT), with a group of grey-clad bodyguards in tow.
He is to meet Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, later in the day, according to his movement."
"It was not immediately clear how long al-Sadr would stay in Iraq or whether the return marked a permanent decision to remain in the country, where his presence would certainly mark a significant shift in Iraqi politics"
Al-Sadr, said to be in his 30s, gained wide popularity among Shias in Iraq in the months after the US-led invasion of 2003, when his Mahdi Army fighters battled US troops"
"Al-Sadr commanded one of Iraq's most formidable private armies after the fall of Saddam Hussein, which contributed to violence and instability in the country for several years"
His political bloc has now joined forces with a former rival, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki"
"There has been intense speculation in Baghdad government circles that Sadr may be used to force a changing of the guard in Najaf, where Iraq's leading Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ali Shistani, has been in a prolonged power struggle with Iran's Mullahs and ruling class for ultimate influence over the region's Shia Muslims"
Ever since the Iranian-brokered detente, struck last September, western and Iraqi officials in Baghdad have been wondering about the demands Sadr would make to the government for his backing.
He is widely seen as being a key figure in an invigorated Iranian putsch in Iraq, which is coinciding with the US military drawdown and its decreasing diplomatic influence"
"Hundreds of followers flocked to the Imam Ali shrine in the city to chant "yes, yes to Moqtada"
As he arrived there, dressed in clerical black robes and a black headdress. Others gathered outside his house and office, where security was tight.
"His return brings happiness for all Iraqis and the government," said Natiq Abdul Majeed, a resident of Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite Karrada district. "It will cancel many negative issues like sectarianism and fix relations between the parties."
"Moqtada returns as an important partner in parliament, in the political process and the executive power," said Iraqi political analyst Ibrahim al-Sumaidaie"
"the return of the man reviled by American forces also underscores the U.S.'s waning political influence in Iraq as American forces prepare to leave the country entirely by the end of this year"
Now, the anti-U.S. political figures, whether Shiite or Sunnis, are feeling that they are more confident now and their role in shaping Iraq's future is expanding. The Iraqi government is ready more than ever to accept and include figures known for their anti-U.S. stances," he said.
"The Sadrists now are politically stronger than ever and they are aware of their importance in Iraq's political life."
Sadr traveled by plane from the Iranian city of Qom, where he had been studying to become an ayatollah, arriving in Najaf at 3 p.m. with a team of bodyguards referred to as the "golden team." He was quickly surrounded by local politicians, Sadrists and a crowd of cheering supporters"
Also the 100% accuracy of the May 15th Prophecy regarding Iran & Iraq (see: Iran-Iraq and the 10 who give power to the Hidden Imam)
"Officials from around the Middle East have been streaming into Iraq since the new government was sworn in last month, nine months after an inconclusive election that led to prolonged political wrangling. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi’s visit came a few days after Jordan and Egypt sent senior delegations.
Iraq’s neighbors are racing to try to regain their influence in Iraq, partly to counter Iran’s rising power. Iraq and Iran were long bitter rivals, especially under Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime, and fought a brutal eight year war in the 1980s, which killed hundreds of thousands on both sides.
Relations improved dramatically with the overthrow of Saddam’s regime and the installation of a new government. Iran is one of Iraq’s largest trading partners, and millions of Iranian pilgrims travel to Iraq yearly.
At a joint press conference with his Iraqi counterpart, Salehi said his country was looking forward to boosting relations in all fields with the new Iraqi government.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the two sides discussed “in detail” an Iranian opposition group that Iran wants expelled from Iraq. His comments suggested Iraq may finally be ready to tackle an issue that has long angered Iran"
Mofaz Warns U.S. Pullout from Iraq Consolidates Iran-Hizbullah Ties
Chairman of the Israeli Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Shaul Mofaz warned that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and consequently from the region allows Iran to strengthen its ties with Hizbullah and Hamas.
"The United States' withdrawal will allow Iran or the Revolutionary Guards to enter, strengthening the bond between Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas,"
Mofaz told a conference at Tel Aviv University on Tuesday.
"Israel and its policy are pushing (Turkish PM Recep Tayyip) Erdogan into the hands of Syrian and Iran."
Suicide of Iran Shah's son, Alireza Pahlavi, caps life of sorrow in exile
"The former royals remain widely despised inside Iran because of a decades-long legacy of repressive and authoritarian rule by the shah, whose overthrow brought to an end centuries of Persian monarchy.
In a brief story titled “Son of ex-dictator of Iran kills himself,” Iran’s state-run PressTV noted on Wednesday that the death marks the
“second member of the Pahlavi family to commit suicide.”
Now "watch" just as the May 15th Prophecy have declared unto you with 100% accuracy written at LastDayWatchers