April 16, 2007


The nightmare Bush dreads most (Dilip Hiro, 4/17/067, Asia Times)

Though only in his early thirties and only a hojatalislam ("proof of Islam") - one rank below an ayatollah in the Shi'ite religious hierarchy - Muqtada al-Sadr has pursued a political strategy no other Iraqi politician can match.

The sources of his ever-expanding appeal are: his pedigree, his fierce nationalism, his shrewd sense of when to confront the occupying power and when to lie low and his adherence to the hierarchical order of the Shi'ite sect, topped by a grand ayatollah - at present 73-year-old Ali Sistani, whose opinion or decree must be accepted by all those below him. (For his part, Sistani does not criticize any Shi'ite leader.)

Muqtada's father, grand ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, and two elder brothers were assassinated outside a mosque in Najaf in February 1999 by the henchmen of president Saddam Hussein. The grand ayatollah had defied Saddam by issuing a religious decree calling on Shi'ites to attend Friday prayers in mosques. The Iraqi dictator, paranoid about large Shi'ite gatherings, feared these would suddenly turn violently anti-regime.

Muqtada then went underground - just as he did recently in the face of the Bush administration's "surge" plan - resurfacing only after the Ba'athist regime fell in April 2003; and Saddam City, the vast slum of Baghdad, with nearly 2 million Shi'ite residents, was renamed Sadr City. As the surviving son of the martyred family of a grand ayatollah, Muqtada was lauded by most Shi'ites.

While welcoming the demise of the Ba'athist regime, Muqtada consistently opposed the continuing occupation of his country by Anglo-American forces. When L Paul Bremer, the American viceroy in Iraq, banned his magazine al-Hawza al Natiqa ("The Vocal Seminary") in April 2004 and American soldiers fired on his followers protesting peacefully against the publication's closure, Muqtada called for "armed resistance" to the occupiers.

Uprisings spread from Sadr City to the southern Iraqi holy cities of Najaf and Karbala as well as four other cities to the south. More than 540 civilians died in the resulting battles and skirmishes. Since the American forces were then also battling Sunni insurgents in Fallujah, Bremer let the ban on the magazine lapse and dropped his plan to arrest Muqtada.

Later, Muqtada fell in line with the wishes of Sistani to see all Shi'ite religious groups gather under one umbrella to contest parliamentary election. His faction allied with two other Shi'ite religious parties - the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and al-Da'awa al-Islamiya (the Islamic Call) - to form the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA).

By so doing, in the face of American hostility, Muqtada gave protective political cover to his faction and its armed wing, the Mehdi Army.

If nothing else, we've given him the sort of credibility that a nation's first great leader requires.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 16, 2007 8:14 AM

Kumbaya, OJ. For Iraq to be quiet Sadr has to stay in Iran or be knocked off. If Sadr wanted the US oppressors out he would have realized that helping to stabilize Iraq in 2003-2005 would have led to a much lower US presence now.

Posted by: AWW at April 16, 2007 3:49 PM

OJ's infatuation with Shia movement has led him to canonize a common thug who just happens to have an uncommon pedigree. This Sadr is Iraq's Al Sharpton, but with bloodier hands.

Posted by: Anthony Perez-Miller at April 16, 2007 4:20 PM

Quiet? The goal isn't quiet. jews would have been quiet had Hitler finished, as Shi'ites had Saddam been left alone. Heck, America is the least quiet country ever.

Sadr held his men off until we proved unable to stop the Sunni from killing Shi'a. Our failure is his opportunity, indeed, obligation.

Posted by: oj at April 16, 2007 4:25 PM

The Founders were likewise common thugs to the British. Winning conveys status.

Posted by: oj at April 16, 2007 4:26 PM

But he's losing: afraid to come out of hiding, al-Maliki is dissing him, and the march he ordered in Najaf a week or so back fell flat.

Need to hang your hopes on a different thug -- preferably, one with better teeth...

Posted by: Anthony Perez-Miller at April 16, 2007 10:11 PM

We hid him.

Posted by: oj at April 17, 2007 9:23 AM