Iraq: Radical cleric becomes 'ayatollah'

Baghdad, 5 May (AKI) - Radical Iraqi Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, is reported to have assumed the title of Grand Ayatollah after concluding his studies in the holy city of Qom in Iran. Sources close to the cleric's faction released the news to the Arab daily, al-Sharq al-Awsat.

Around 70 supporters of al-Sadr on Sunday concluded a conference in the Turkish city of Istanbul where they elected new leaders and mapped out their future.

Al-Sadr, who leads the Mahdi Army militia, also met both Recep Tayyip Erodgan, the Turkish prime minister, and president Abdullah Gul in Ankara on Friday during his visit to Turkey.

Al-Sadr joined his supporters after completing two years of study in Iran and was expected to return to Iraq this week to resume his religious leadership.

During the Shia conference entitled 'The Al-Sadr faction and future challenges', Al-Sadr's supporters renewed their commitment to fight the occupation of their country and demand the removal of all foreign troops, while seeking greater collaboration with other Iraqi political parties.

In 2004, al-Sadr's militia launched an uprising against American troops in Baghdad and British forces in the Shia heartland of southern Iraq.

But his militia suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Iraq's new army last year and his followers have reportedly now turned to mainstream politics.

Al-Sadr is the son of a revered Ayatollah, Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, who represented oppressed majority Shias during Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.

He was murdered by the former regime in 1999, an assassination which provoked widespread riots in Shia areas.


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