Sadr has left Iraq for Iran, fearing US bomb strike: reports
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militia wing the United States accuses of involvement in the sectarian violence gripping Iraq, has gone to Iran, fearing a US bomb strike, US media has said.
Sadr left Iraq by car two or three weeks ago and headed straight for Tehran, unidentified senior US military officials told ABC television, which first reported the story.
The officials said Sadr was afraid his house would get bombed by coalition forces, adding that some members of his leadership accompanied him to Iran.
However, the officials did not believe the Shiite leader had left Iraq for good.
The alleged departure of Iraq's most powerful militia leader coincided with US President George W. Bush's new strategy of sending an additional 21,500 US troops to Iraq.
The US military officials believe extremist elements within Sadr's Mahdi Army militia fractured with their leader because, in their view, he has become too involved in Iraq's political process and did not respond strongly enough to Sunni attacks on Shiites, ABC said.
With a joint US and Iraqi security plan slowly lumbering into gear and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki vowing to deal with extremists, Sadr has been keen to project himself as a mainstream political figure rather than a militia leader.
In a bid to present a more tolerant face to the media, Sadr supporters on Tuesday invited reporters and cameramen to the office of their movement's "social committee" in Sadr City, a sprawling eastern Baghdad slum that is home to two million Shiites and hundreds of militia fighters.
The journalists were presented with a single Sunni resident apparently displaced by sectarian violence and 30 displaced Shiite families, in an effort to show that the Sadr movement is out to help the displaced from all religious affiliations.
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