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Gunmen Try To Shoot Iraqi Cleric Sadr's Spokesman

The firebrand cleric has largely faded from the Iraqi political scene.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Gunmen have attempted to kill a spokesman for influential Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in central Baghdad, Iraqi police and an official from Sadr's movement said.

Abdul Jabbar Wahid al-Hajami, one of Sadr's senior media officials, was travelling to the offices of a newspaper put out by Sadr early on May 14 when gunmen in a pickup truck approached and fired automatic weapons at the car, police said.

The vehicle's driver was killed, and one of Hajami's associates was seriously wounded, said Muhammad Hassan, another media official in Sadr's political movement.

Hajami himself was unharmed.

Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia was once one of the most fierce armed groups in Iraq, has faded from the political spotlight in the past year.

He is believed to be in Iran pursuing religious studies, but he made a rare public visit to Turkey earlier this month for talks with Turkish officials and fellow Shi'ite politicians.

The attack "could be a political reaction to the successes we have achieved, especially during the conference in Turkey," Hassan said.

The meeting is believed to have been aimed at recalibrating Sadr's political strategy in a year in which Iraqis are due to go to polls for national elections.

Violence has dropped sharply in Iraq since the peak of sectarian bloodshed unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but a rash of attacks has raised questions about security gains.

Sadr has ordered the bulk of Mahdi Army fighters to lay down their arms and dedicate themselves to social work, but officials close to him insist they will continue to battle the U.S. military presence in Iraq.