October 2, 2004


Militant Cleric Is Testing Entry In Iraqi Politics (DEXTER FILKINS, 10/03/04, NY Times)

The Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has begun laying the groundwork to enter Iraq's nascent democratic process, telling Iraqi leaders that he is planning to disband his militia and possibly field candidates for office.

After weeks of watching his militia wither before American military attacks, Mr. Sadr has sent emissaries to some of Iraq's major political parties and religious groups to discuss the possibility of involving himself in the campaign for nationwide elections, according to a senior aide to Mr. Sadr and several Iraqi leaders who have met with him.

According to these Iraqis, Mr. Sadr says he intends to disband his militia, the Mahdi Army, and endorse the holding of elections. And while Mr. Sadr has made promises to end his armed resistance before, some Iraqi officials believe that he may be serious this time, especially given the toll of attacks on his forces.

Mr. Sadr's aides say his political intentions have been endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most powerful Shiite religious leader. He has long tried to tame what he believes is Mr. Sadr's destructive influence on the chances of Iraq's Shiites to win a majority in the elections scheduled for January.

In recent weeks, Mr. Sadr's chief aide, Ali Smesim, has met with some of the country's most important political leaders, including members of the Association of Muslim Scholars, the powerful Sunni organization; leaders of the country's Kurdish community; Christians and other Shiite leaders. Mr. Sadr appears to be particularly interested in cultivating disaffected political groups that did not cooperate with the American occupation and which are not now part of the interim Iraqi government. Those smaller parties, in turn, are keenly interested in tapping the vast support enjoyed by the 31-year-old cleric among Iraq's poor.

"We are ready to enter the democratic process, under certain conditions," Mr. Smesim said in an interview. "We will have a program. And if Moktada comes in, he will be the biggest in Iraq."

You know the old saying: If democracy is inevitable sit back and enjoy it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 2, 2004 5:57 PM
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