- - Wednesday, January 5, 2011

IRAQ

Al-Sadr returns from exile

NAJAF | Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a fierce opponent of the United States and head of Iraq’s most feared militia, came home Wednesday after nearly four years in self-imposed exile in Iran, welcomed by hundreds of cheering supporters in a return that solidifies the rise of his movement.

Mr. al-Sadr’s presence in Iraq ensures he will be a powerful voice in Iraqi politics as U.S. forces leave the country. He left Iraq in 2007 somewhat as a renegade, a firebrand populist whose militiamen battled U.S. troops and Iraqi forces.

He returns a more legitimized figure, leading an organized political movement that is a vital partner in the new government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Mr. al-Sadr can wield a bully pulpit to put strong pressure on Mr. al-Maliki — and is likely to demand that no American troops remain beyond their scheduled final withdrawal date at the end of this year.

His return caused trepidation among many Iraqis, particularly Sunnis who remember vividly the sectarian killings carried out by his militia, the Mahdi Army, and think he is a tool of Iran.

ISRAEL

Rights groups: Inquiry is war on dissent

JERUSALEM | Human rights groups expressed outrage Wednesday after Israel’s parliament moved toward approving a formal inquiry into their sources of funding, describing it as a step to stifle dissent and limit democracy.

The vote was one of a series needed to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry into human rights groups that work toward prosecution of Israeli soldiers and officials abroad for alleged war crimes. It passed by a wide margin, 41-15.

The sponsor of the inquiry legislation, like similar steps before, was Yisrael Beitenu, the hard-line party headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and dominated by immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Activities of groups like Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, which expose purported Israeli human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza, have long infuriated Mr. Lieberman and his allies.

BELGIUM

Separatists hold up bid to end crisis

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