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Moqtada al-Sadr is back. The radical Shi'ite cleric and head of Iraq's most feared militia group has returned to Iraq after a 4-year self-imposed exile in Iran. His homecoming is being welcomed by many Iraqi Shi'ites, who see him as a stabilizing force in the country. His strong anti-American views, however, and history of fomenting sectarian violence have some in Washington on edge. Here's what reporters and international observers are saying about his return:


  • He Will Hold a Lot of Sway, writes the Associated Press: "Al-Sadr's presence in Iraq ensures he will be a powerful voice in Iraqi politics as U.S. forces leave the country. He left Iraq in 2007 somewhat as a renegade, a firebrand populist whose militiamen battled American troops and Iraqi forces. He returns a more legitimized figure, leading an organized political movement that is a vital partner in the new government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
  • Political Influence? Don't Count On It, counters Juan Cole at Informed Comment. "The US deeply dislikes and distrusts Sadr," and "that al-Maliki allowed him to come back to Najaf is surely a little gesture of his independence from Washington as US troops draw down. Still, it is unlikely that Sadr will be all that powerful in the al-Maliki government. He has been excluded from powerful ministries."

U.S. military commanders accuse the military wing--previously known as the Mahdi Army and now rebranded as the Promised Day Brigades--of more recent attacks on U.S. installations in Iraq, notably with rockets supplied by Iran. Tehran has repeatedly denied these accusations.

U.S. officials say they want to ensure the cleric doesn't wield too much influence in the new government, by lobbying Mr. Maliki to keep Mr. Sadr's followers out of senior security posts.

  • This Shows How Grave of a State Iraq Is In, writes Paul Pillar at The National Interest. Sadr's return,  he argues, reveals "how far away ... Iraq still is from anything a westerner would recognize as a stable democracy. Given the responsibility of the Sadrists for much of the sectarian bloodshed of Iraq's very recent past, the fact that their leader is back in place as an accepted political player in Iraq rather than being consigned to ignominy and exile is itself a major statement."
  • Say Goodbye to Sectarian Reconciliation, sighs Firas Al-Atraqchi at The Huffington Post:

Muqtada's resurgence as chief of the Sadrist political faction means that any hopes of reconciliation between Shia and Sunni will be dashed. We have already seen a renewed vicious campaign against weakened minorities, such as the Christians, gain in ferocity in the past six months. It also means that Iraqi Sunnis will likely not participate in any democratic endeavor in the future.

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