Thousands flock to Iraqi holy city to see al-Sadr

January 8, 2011 09:14

NAJAF, Iraq  — Iraqis poured into the holy Shiite city of Najaf to hear a powerful anti-American cleric give his first public speech in his home country after nearly four years in self-imposed exile.

Followers and detractors alike will be watching Muqtada al-Sadr's Saturday morning speech for signs of what direction he'll take his political movement.Al-Sadr heads Iraq's most feared militia, whose gunmen have battled American troops and Iraqi forces.

He left Iraq in 2007 as a firebrand popular with poor Iraqi Shiites. Now he heads an organized political movement and is an influential figure in Iraqi politics.

The 37-year-old cleric's support was crucial in giving Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a second term.

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