Sunday, May 27, 2007


Al-Sadr and aides discuss new direction for their movement

(AFP) - Radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr met his top lieutenants on Sunday to discuss a new direction for his movement after his return to public life following a mysterious seven-month disappearance. The meeting was designed to push Sadr's plan to create a more positive public face for his Shiite movement, a spokesman said, briefing reporters after the conference in Sadr's headquarters in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.
"The Sadr movement is going to appear in a new form and with a new style on the Iraqi scene," said the movement's spokesman Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi. "We intend to establish a mechanism to escape from the routines that we used to work with and that were imposed on us by the circumstances in the country," he said, without elaborating.
The most public face of Sadr's movement in the four years since the US-led invasion has been his Mahdi Army, Iraq's biggest militia, which has been accused of carrying out sectarian attacks against Sunnis.
The Mahdi Army continues to clash with British and US forces, and is locked in several local turf wars with rival Shiite factions, but sectarian death squad killings in Baghdad have diminished in recent months.
"Now that he's back from four months in Iran, we hope he'll play a useful and positive role in the development of Iraq," White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Friday, after Sadr's reappearance. Sadr supporters have recently held out their hands to Sunni tribal leaders in a gesture of reconciliation and have been urging the government to reform Iraq's rickety public services.
But whatever direction his reforms take him in, Sadr remains a staunch opponent of the US presence in Iraq. "There is no other solution for our problems than the withdrawal of the occupier from our country," Obeidi said.

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