TSR: "There's a lot of disconnects there."
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WOLF BLITZER: And more on our breaking news that we're following. Muqtada al- Sadr, the top anti-American radical Shiite cleric in Iraq heads to Iran. There are enormous security and political implications. We're going to go to Baghdad and speak with our Michael Ware and get the latest.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news here in Washington. Two sources confirming to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux over at the White House that Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American Shiite leader in Iraq, the leader of the Mahdi Army has fled to Iran, circumstances unknown. The sources telling our Suzanne Malveaux and other news organizations here in the United States that he fled some two to three weeks ago. Let's go to Baghdad. Michael Ware is joining us, our correspondent on the scene.
Michael, give us your sense of what potentially this means. These U.S. sources suggesting Muqtada al-Sadr has fled to neighboring Iran.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's 3 a.m. here in Iraq as this news is breaking. Clearly, it's very difficult to contact anybody. And frankly, what people in Washington are saying often bears little relation to what's really going on here on the ground.
So right now, it's only speculation that Muqtada has left. Has he left? If he did, did he flee, if so, for what reason? We have no idea right now, Wolf. Indeed, we were speaking to Muqtada's office in Najaf just a few days ago. They were certainly saying he was still in Iraq, in Najaf.
We have sources close to his party who this evening were saying that they had heard this rumor a couple of days ago. They spoke to Muqtada's people. They were told also that he was here in Iraq, in Najaf. Now you would expect them to tell you this if he's fled, but you would also expect them to tell you this if he's here.
Either way, at the end of the day, what's it really mean? Is he running in flight for fear of the Baghdad security plan? I think that's most unlikely. I don't think Muqtada himself, his personal safety or freedom is really threatened politically or militarily by the Baghdad security plan. Indeed, if he does go to Iraq, does it weaken his power base?
I suspect not. I think it will put stress on it, but Osama bin Laden is in hiding and al Qaeda is still thriving. We see abu Hamza, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq on the run constantly. His organization doesn't skip a beat. I suspect that if Muqtada has gone to Iran for whatever reason, for whatever period, we'll not see the end of the Mahdi militia or the Sadr political movement.
BLITZER: In other words, potentially he may have just made a visit, a business visit to Iran along the lines of other Iraqi leaders, Muqtada al-Sadr, the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, all of them have at one point or another gone to Teheran for a visit, and it's potentially possible he may have just gone over to check in with Iranian leaders.
WARE: He's done that several times in the past, as I understand. Indeed, he was preparing for a visit to Damascus, due this week or next week. He's traveled the region just at the end of last year, on the stump, rallying support and reassuring Arab Sunni leaders. I mean this is a man who from time to time travels.
He coordinates with other leaders, and he coordinates with his various sponsors, including those who are in Iran. So is he here, is he not? Has he fled, has he gone of his own volition for what purpose? Totally up in the air. Let's go back and ask the White House and these unnamed sources: come clean, give us the facts.
BLITZER: How important is Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, Michael?
WARE: Well, Muqtada's a vital element in many, many ways. I mean he's not the most powerful force either politically or militarily here, but he certainly is someone who is in a position in the middle of such relative strength that he found himself in the driver's seat as kingmaker, able to propel an otherwise compromise candidate for prime minister into the, you know, one of the top jobs in the country, as the chief executive.
He's also got a militia that on the streets, on its own turf, has certainly given the U.S. military as good almost as it's received. Indeed, Sadr City, home to half the population, blindly loyal to this man, Muqtada al-Sadr, remains a place where U.S. forces can only go in guns blazing and tear out the same way. So this is a formidable individual.
He has political forces and militia factions throughout southern Iraq. Now, the Iranians have been putting pressure on him. He hasn't been playing ball with the Americans, and he hasn't entirely played ball with the Iranians. They have been chipping away at his power base, so yeah, he's in a slightly weakened position right now. But right -- honestly, Wolf, everything is on the table in this country in every direction that you look, including Muqtada.
BLITZER: Michael, you were at that briefing over the weekend when military sources -- U.S. military sources in Baghdad suggested that the highest levels of the Iranian government were behind the introduction of these sophisticated munitions that were going into Iraq over the past couple of years, killed about 170 or so American troops.
And now we're hearing from the top U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, saying he's not convinced that the highest levels of the Iranian government are behind it. He's not sure who is behind it. Are you surprised by this latest twist in this story?
WARE: Well, honestly, I'm not surprised by anything that comes out of the U.S. military these days, Wolf. I mean, you know, even when they have a song sheet, often it's -- they're not all on it. I mean, let's look at the most recent helicopter crash. They're out there telling us it was a mechanical failure. The next minute, it was shot down. I mean, there are so many contradictions in the U.S. message. I mean, that's one of its great failings, so no, I'm not surprised. There's a lot of disconnects here.
BLITZER: Michael Ware on the scene for us in Baghdad. Stand by, Michael. We're going to continue to follow this story.