April 27, 2004


Sadr the agitator: like father, like son: Militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr builds on his father's fame and has eclipsed many moderates. (Dan Murphy, 4/27/04, CS Monitor)

While Moqtada's religious credentials are weak, his family's political standing is as deep as the modern history of Iraq. His grandfather was the prime minister in 1932. And this young, militant cleric didn't spontaneously emerge after the fall of Saddam Hussein. US forces now entering the city of Najaf, are up against a man who has donned the well-cultivated mantle of his father, the leading Shiite thorn in the side of the Hussein regime in the 1990s.

Today, the younger Sadr has built on his father's popularity and created a militant Shiite movement that has eclipsed many in the more moderate Shiite majority, who have remained largely silent.

For the moment, his movement is stalled. The uprising he sparked across southern Iraq in early April has failed. [...]

For his supporters, the stand-off with the Americans is evidence that he's on the right path. "The tyrants always fear the ones who are most just, must good,'' says Ali Yassawi, sitting in the movement's main office in Sadr City, the sprawling Baghdad public housing quarter that is a hot-bed of Saddriyun, or Sadr supporters. "At first I wasn't sure about Moqtada, but just like the father, our enemies are fighting against him. This proves he's on the right path."

Fighting and dying for near hopeless causes inspires almost mystical reverence within the Shiite community, going back to the beginnings of the Sunni- Shiite split in the 7th century. When Imam Ali was assassinated after leaving the mosque in Kufa where he had set up a rival caliphate, his son Hussein later led 72 men into battle against an army of 4,000 opponents. Hussein's defeat at Karbala cemented the schism.

Moqtada refers to the US as "Yazid," the name of the Ummayid Caliph whose men killed Imam Hussein, and talks about the martyrdom of both his own father and his uncle, the prominent Ayatollah and philosopher Mohammed Bakr al-Sadr, killed by the Hussein regime in 1980. His framing of the conflict in these terms has made it difficult for the US to deal with Sadr, a man US officials have charged with murder.

"The idea of martyrdom and persecution does resonate throughout the Shiite world,'' says David Patel, a PhD candidate at Stanford University in California who's studying Shiite political movements in modern Iraq. "The average Shiite is unlikely to empathize with Moqtada's plight, probably thinking he brought it on himself." But Patel says that if US forces move on Najaf, Sadr's support could blossom.

Shutting down his newspaper was foolish and it would be best now to completely marginalize and minimize him. Let Ayatollah al-Sistani and company deal with him when we're gone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 27, 2004 7:50 AM

Over at Rantburg there are 2 articles - 1 saying the Najaf residents are beginning to turn on the SAdr militia and 2 that US forces have killed dozens of the Sadr militia in the past day or so. If true Sadr might not be much of an issue soon.

Posted by: AWW at April 27, 2004 8:26 AM

Sadr is backed by Iran, and once we're gone Sistani is more likely to surrender to him than defeat him.

It's best to deal with him ourselves just before we go, taking the blame ourselves and letting Sistani husband his strength.

Posted by: pj at April 27, 2004 9:35 AM

Too bad he can't be ex-communicated.

Sistani needs to be told if it's a holy city, why are you allowing him to disrespect it by treating it as an ammo depot?

If the Shia won't respect it, why should we?

Posted by: Sandy P at April 27, 2004 10:49 AM

Sandy, sandy, sandy please surely you see the wisdom in dropping to our knees in respect of his holiness Sadr. Look at all the terrible nasty things that happened after Reno took out Koresh and burned his "holy compound".

Sadr is just small potatoes in this operation, granted he has made us look like total idiots, but it's best and prudent that we forcefully avoid conflict and change the discussion to more pleasant subjects, like the reform of Islam from hateful, mean, killing machine to ahh.. an opportunity society.

Well anyway our soldiers are paid good money and there is obviously no reason to get bent out of shape about the morale of the troops and such. If our military commanders haven't got the commonsense to stay out of the way then we will just have to suffer a few casualties while Sistani is mulling over his options. But trust me when Sistani makes his move you'll know it. I think.

Posted by: h-man at April 27, 2004 12:17 PM


Koresh led to OK City.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 12:39 PM


It's a Shi'a holy city, not an American holy city.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 12:52 PM

All this talk about holy cities makes me wonder why NY and Wash. D.C. weren't declared holy cities after 9/11.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 27, 2004 12:57 PM


That's why Osama chose them, is it not? For their symbolic value? Want to give the Shi'a, who are our de facto allies, a 9-11 to rally around and hate us for?

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 1:25 PM

"koresh led to OK city"
Yes and then we got McVeigh. It's called law and order.

Posted by: h-man at April 27, 2004 3:07 PM


or senseless slaughter

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 3:44 PM

"senseless slaughter" was what Carter avoided as we got our butt kicked out of Iran.

Until 9/11 that is.

Posted by: h-man at April 27, 2004 3:56 PM

Which Prime Minister; Nuri El Said; the friend of the Crusader Lawrence; the Chalabi or his day. I
don't think so. There's another candidate, who
was prime minister under the Arab Vichy reign of
Rashid Ali Gailani; but I somehow don't think so;
Mr. Murphy seems to have taken for a fool. It's
interesting though that Mr. Pachachi (who appears
in Oren's Six Day WAr as the hapless Baathist UN
Ambassador) as well as Chalabi; were all part of
the old pre-revolutionary stratum; along with Mr.

Posted by: narciso at April 27, 2004 10:04 PM

Orrin's quest for good Shias begins to take on the tone of appeasers looking for good Germans 70 years ago.

Sistani isn't dealing with Muqtadr because they're on the same side, so far as it concerns us, anyway.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 28, 2004 12:36 AM