Martin Chulov
January 5, 2011

The cleric once described by the US military as the most dangerous man in Iraq, Muqtadr al-Sadr, slipped back into his homeland today after three years in Iran to lay claim to a lead role in Iraqi affairs.

Al-Sadr’s low-key return to the Shia Islamic holy city of Najaf came after his self-imposed exile under the tutelage of Shia clerics and senior Iranian regime figures, which have cast him as a power-player in the second term Government of Iraq’s prime minister, Nour al-Maliki.

Key leaders within Al-Sadr’s Sadrist movement last night confirmed the volatile cleric had returned to stay. “We are all happy because he’s back,” said Nassir al-Rubaie, the Minister for Works in Iraq’s new government. “This is not a short visit. He has returned to where he came from and he will play an important role in the political process.”

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Al-Sadr’s return to centre stage in the brittle state’s affairs had been anticipated ever since Iranian leaders persuaded him to support Maliki in his ultimately successful bid to be returned as leader, following nine months of talks. However, the appearance of Al-Sadr in Najaf, so soon after a Government was finally formed appeared to have caught his followers off-guard.

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