A senior aide to Moqtada al-Sadr, radical Shia cleric and leader of the Mahdi Army militia, was photographed shaking hands with Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, yesterday, hours after Mr Maliki secured his release from US custody.

In pictures released this morning by the prime minister's office, Ahmed al-Shibani, who had been held by coalition forces for more than two years on suspicion of carrying heavy weapons, grins as he meets Mr Maliki in Baghdad.