Cleric: Iraq Will "Swim in a Lake of Blood" if Sadr is Killed

A leading figure in the movement led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said the group would not pardon anyone if their leader is harmed.

"In the event Sadr is harmed, Iraqi will them swim in a lake of blood," warned Sheikh Sadeq al-Hasnawi.

Hasnawi is one of the top officials leading the movement in Sadr's absence.

He said the cleric was currently in Iran "studying and mediating" in the religious city of Qom, which is the Iranian equivalent of Iraq's holy city of Najaf where Shiite clerics are educated and trained.

Hasnawi made the remarks in response to unconfirmed reports that Sadr was poisoned and was being hospitalized in Tehran.

"These reports that Moqtada al-Sadr has been poisoned are merely rumors spread by those who would like to see him disappear from the arena by having him assassinated," said Hasnawi.

Despite his close connection with the political and clerical establishment in Tehran, Sadr is projecting himself and his movement as an Arab nationalist group bent on the unification of the country, rejection of occupation and refusal of attempts to divide Iraq into federal states.

These positions have won him wide support among Iraqi nationals, particularly Arabs, whether Sunni or Shiites.

Hasnawi said Sadr's popularity was at an all time high in the country and that clerics higher than him in rank and age follow his line as well as tribal leaders particularly in central Iraq.

"Moqtada al-Sadr is in Qom to study and worship and pray. He is in seclusion right now, but this does not mean he will never return," he said.

The presence in Qom is said to prepare the cleric for the rank of Ayatollah which will enable him to poise himself as a reference for Islamic jurisdiction among Shiites.

Hasnawi said despite his absence, Sadr was in contact with his followers in Iraq and his policies and attitudes are announced through spokespersons.

He said the movement, whose military wing of the Mahdi Army is a formidable militia force, pursues a line of political Islam which distances itself from violence.

Sadr has extended his truce with U.S. occupation forces for six more months. It is the third renewal of the ceasefire.

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