I was milling around on the Internets last night when a headline scrolled across the top of my screen that said something like "Ant-American Cleric Flees to Iran". When I clicked on the link, the story told me that the "anti-American cleric" in question was Al-Sadr, one of the most influential Shiite leaders in Iraq.
Wow, I thought, this has to be considered good news, right? Highly interested in this development, I surfed the liberal swamp of dirty, commie hippy web-blogs for further info but no one had anything to say yet, given how recent the story appeared to be. Even Juan Cole hadn't reported or analyzed this report yet.
Then this morning I see a headline that provides a twist to last night's original account. Now the headline was saying that the U.S. military was asserting that Al-Sadr had indeed fled to Iran even though there were now some counter-reports disputing this claim.
And then I turn to Juan Cole who had by this time gotten on the story.
And it seems that, with a little depth of investigating, things may be a little more complicated than they at first appeared:
This USG report about Muqtada broke after midnight Baghdad time, so there has not been time for the Arabic or Persian press to react. I'll know more Thursday morning.
Sadr aides denied to the LA Times that Muqtada is in Iran, saying he is in hiding in Iraq.
Some are taking exception to the word "fled."
The press record I assembled, below, does not support Muqtada's disappearance to Iran. It is possible but not likely that Muqtada would go to Iran. He and his family have endlessly made fun of the al-Hakim clerical leaders for fleeing to Iran to escape persecution by Saddam Hussein, when the al-Sadrs insisted on staying in Iraq. Muqtada's father was killed in 1999 by Saddam's agents because he stayed and gave defiant sermons. So it would be a lot of crow to eat for Muqtada to go to Iran to escape the Americans. Plus, there is nothing in the Iranian press about him showing up in Qom, and an Iranian diplomat denied the story. Without more and better evidence, this account strikes me as suspect, and I would guess that if Muqtada disappeared, it is inside Iraq.
It might be useful to construct a timeline for Muqtada's recent activities.
Read the whole thing.
Aren't you glad there are people besides the Very Serious People in our Media Elite to evaluate this kind of stuff?