http://gdb.rferl.org/da3bd326-e97e-4599-9bfe-e3026eb5ad35_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/da3bd326-e97e-4599-9bfe-e3026eb5ad35_mw800_mh600.jpg
Muqtada al-Sadr (file photo) (AFP)
February 14, 2007 -- Unconfirmed news reports quote U.S. officials as saying that Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim leader Muqtada al-Sadr is believed to have left Iraq for Iran.
Senior U.S. military officials are quoted by U.S. news organizations as saying al-Sadr, leader of the Imam al-Mahdi Army militia, left Baghdad two or three weeks ago and fled to Tehran, where he has family.
Al-Sadr allegedly feared he could be targeted by U.S.-led coalition forces amid the current security crackdown under way in Baghdad, according to the reports.
However, two aides to al-Sadr denied the reports. AFP quotes Nassar al-Rubaie as saying al-Sadr is still in Iraq, without saying where, while another aide said he remains in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf.
The reports about al-Sadr's alleged departure followed an announcement that Iraq is closing its borders with Iran and Syria for 72 hours as part of the operation to halt violence.
(compiled from agency reports)