According to senior military officials, [ABC News reported on Tuesday,] al Sadr left Baghdad two to three weeks ago and fled to Tehran, Iran, where he has family. ..."Fled" is an interesting word choice. It appears to have been AP's word: In looking at different versions of the story, every one that used that word was either the AP story or said AP "contributed." (And one that did not rely exclusively on AP did not use the term, saying rather that al-Sadr "had left.") And it's one that AP repeated today when it reported the denials of the original claim:
Sources believe al Sadr is worried about an increase of 20,000 U.S. troops in the Iraqi capital. One official told ABC News' Martha Raddatz, "He is scared he will get a JDAM [bomb] dropped on his house."
Sources say some of the Mahdi army leadership went with al Sadr.
Officials linked to Muqtada al-Sadr denied Wednesday that the radical Shiite cleric had fled to Iran ahead of a security crackdown in Baghdad.Al-Sadr didn't leave for, depart for, go to, or travel to, he "fled to" Iran. The term implies fear, surrender, and at least a certain amount of guilt. It's one of those "us/them" word choices that impart judgment as well as description: Our side "withdraws." Their side "flees." The impression it gives is one of, if you will, a "surging" victory for our side.
An Iraqi government official said al-Sadr was in the Shiite holy city of Najaf Tuesday night, when he received delegates from several government departments.
That was made more explicit by the statement in today's story that he "fled ... ahead of a security crackdown." So the picture being painted for us of late is this: Iranian-supplied Shiite militias are now the biggest enemy of the US in Iraq and the head of the biggest of those militias, Moqtada al-Sadr, has "fled" to Iran ahead of the "crackdown." We're winning! We're winning! The President's Plan Is Working!
Don't forget to clap your hands and say "I believe!"
Footnote One: Prof. Juan Cole has done an excellent job of undermining the claims that al-Sadr in is Iran rather than Iraq. Besides the newspaper accounts he assembles, he tellingly notes that
[h]e 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. ... So it would be a lot of crow to eat for Muqtada to go to Iran to escape the Americans.Footnote Two: The Fox News lead on the story is unintentionally funny:
Anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has fled his Baghdad stronghold for the friendly confines of Iran's capital, FOX News can confirm via a senior United States official.Oh, right. Fox "The Big Scoop" News "confirmed" it. Along with everyone else at the press briefing. That is assuming Fox was actually there; the article coyly notes that "the Associated Press contributed to this report."