Ramblin' Al Sadr Man
The main reason for getting into podcasts was, for me, the BBC World Service, still the perfect way to receive coded signals from MI6 in Vauxhall and catch up on all the earthshaking news that somehow escaped the attentions of NY1's producers. You get five minutes of all of the most important stuff, which lasts me about as far as the Seventh Avenue Subway stop, at which point we hand over to the Gods of Metal.
One of the items piqued my interest this morning. Moqtada Al Sadr and his bulging eyes have been in hiding the last few months. But he's back. Where had he been? There are two schools of thought. Either he's been in Iran a bit of the time, or a lot of the time.
On the one side we have the New York Times, which headlines its article "Shiite Cleric Appears in Iraq After Stay in Iran", and gives the project the following opening paragraph, which is a little more cautious:
The powerful Iraqi cleric Moktada al-Sadr surfaced in his home base of Kufa in southern Iraq today, delivering a sermon in a local mosque after what American intelligence officials called a four-month sojourn in Iran.
But then jumps right back in:
The cleric had left for Iran after the Bush administration announced its new security push in January, and his militia immediately went underground, in an apparent effort to outwait the Americans and avoid a head-on clash. Members of his political party, however, say he never left.
On the other side we have the BBC, with "Iraqi cleric back in public eye", and the following quote from a follower:
A senior aide to Mr Sadr told the BBC that he had left Iraq over fears for his safety and made a regional tour, including a trip to Iran.
So we don't really know. There are a number of reasons why it would suit Us intelligence sources to point to Iran as his host, either because they think, rather wistfully, that it might make him less popular, or because it would provide a marvelous casus belli for all those aircraft carriers cruising up and down the Persian Gulf. Al Sadr's people have slightly less reason to fib, although the BBC and NYT both seem to acknowledge that his hold over his supporters has become a little weaker.
The man who might be able to get something reliable on this is concentrating on the Democrats in DC right now.
Either way, the man's clearly warped into the Scarlet Pimpernel of Iraqi politics, or possibly the Lord Flash