Officials deny Shi'ite cleric left Iraq for Iran

Muqtada al-Sadr's supporters denied Wednesday that the radical Shi'ite cleric had fled to Iran ahead of a security crackdown in Baghdad. An Iraqi government official said al-Sadr was in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf Tuesday night, when he received delegates from several government departments. The official, who is familiar with one of those meetings, spoke on condition of anonymity because he has no authority to disclose information on his department's activities. The denials came after a US official said al-Sadr left his Baghdad stronghold some weeks ago and is believed to be in Teheran, where he has family. The official said fractures in al-Sadr's political and militia operations may be part of the reason for his departure. The move is not believed to be permanent, the official said.