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Radical Shiite cleric Sadr back in Iraq: source

by Staff Writers
Najaf, Iraq (AFP) Feb 23, 2011
Radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr returned to the holy city of Najaf from Iran on Wednesday, a source within his office told AFP.

"Moqtada al-Sadr arrived at his home in Al-Hannana in Najaf this afternoon," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We don't know if this visit will be for a long time or not."

Sadr returned to Iran, where he spent four years of self-imposed exile, on January 20 after having spent two weeks in Iraq.

While in Iraq last month, the firebrand cleric called on his supporters to resist the US "occupation" by all means.

He had left Iraq at the end of 2006 or early in 2007, according to US and Iraqi officials, and had reportedly been pursuing religious studies in the Iranian holy city of Qom.

The controversial Sadr gained widespread popularity among Shiites in the months after the 2003 US-led invasion, and his Mahdi Army militia later battled American and Iraqi government forces in several bloody confrontations.

But in August 2008, Sadr suspended the activities of the Mahdi Army, which once numbered in the tens of thousands, after major US and Iraqi assaults on its strongholds in Baghdad and southern Iraq in the spring.

earlier related report
Policeman killed in Iraq Kurd anti-govt protest: mayor
Sulaimaniyah, Iraq (AFP) Feb 23, 2011 - Anti-government protests in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja on Wednesday left a policeman dead as a result of gunshot wounds and another injured, the town's mayor and a doctor said.

Several hundred demonstrators had been marching to the offices of Halabja mayor Goran Adhem when shots were fired, although both sides offered differing accounts of how the fatality occurred.

"The demonstrators shot and killed a policeman and wounded another," Adhem said. He added that protesters attempted to march to his office but, before arriving, opened fire.

Adhem said that authorities had "video of demonstrators carrying guns" and claimed that protesters were not from the Kurdish town, 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of the Iraqi autonomous region's second-biggest city Sulaimaniyah, but instead were of Arab origin.

But protesters, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of arrest, insisted that no one at their rally was carrying weapons. They said that police fired into the air and the casualties were caused when the bullets fell downwards.

A journalist for the independent Kurdish weekly Awene said that demonstrators had assembled at around 2:00 pm (1100 GMT) at Hurriyah Square in the centre of Halabja before moving towards the mayor's office.

"I heard gunshots, I don't know where they came from, and I ran away," the journalist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A medical official at Halabja hospital, who did not want to be named, said one policeman was killed and five people were wounded, including four civilians who suffered bruises.

A rally in the town a day earlier left 32 police wounded after protesters threw stones at security forces, Adhem said.

The policeman's death was the fourth in Kurdistan since Thursday when thousands have hit the streets of Sulaimaniyah and Halabja to demand an end to the dominance of two parties that have lorded over Kurdistan for decades.

In Sulaimaniyah on Wednesday, around 3,000 demonstrators, some carrying pictures of people killed in previous rallies, railed against the region's leadership.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party of regional president Massud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani have jointly ruled the region for decades.

Meanwhile, near the southern city of Nasiriyah, 15 people were wounded -- 11 police and four protesters -- as a result of clashes that broke out from rallies.

The 200-odd demonstrators had been railing against poor public services and corruption and began throwing stones at security forces, sparking the clashes, Fuhud town Mayor Zaki al-Ameri said. He added that 18 people were arrested.

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