Muqrada al-Sadr (file photo) (AFP)
February 15, 2007 -- An Iraqi official today backed U.S. military reports that radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is in Iran, but denied suggestions that he fled Iraq fearing arrest.
Sami al-Askari, an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said al-Sadr is only visiting Iran and will return to Iraq soon.
Meanwhile today, the U.S. military said Iraq has begun closing its borders with Iran and Syria as part of a security crackdown aimed at stopping the movement of militants and weapons into the country.
Al-Sadr supporters demonstrating against the U.S. presence in Iraq in October 2006 (epa)
A RADICAL CLERIC. Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is a key figure in Iraq. He heads the Imam Al-Mahdi Army militia and a political bloc that is prominent in parliament and the government. His ties to Iran have also provoked concerns in some quarters.