February 13, 2008


Muqtada, the man who would be ayatollah (Babak Rahimi, 2/14/08, Asia Times)

Muqtada's attempt to become an ayatollah follows his earlier call to suspend operations by his militia, the Jaish al-Mahdi (The Mahdi Army, or JaM) in the summer of 2007. Together with his decision to study in Najaf, this has marked a decisive new beginning in the organizational structure and leadership dynamics of the Mahdi militia.

The decision to suspend JaM was made largely because of the outbreak of violence between Mahdi forces and the rival Badr Organization in Karbala in August 2007. The incident was a major embarrassment for al-Sadr, who had been seeking the support of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Shi'ite Iraq's grand cleric, and the conservative establishment in Tehran against the rebellious splinter groups within his own militia since 2005.

The suspension, which came in August 2007, was a way to ensure his Shi'ite partners that he was willing to restructure his forces for the sake of Shi'ite unity at a time when US - or Israeli - forces seemed to be on the brink of starting a major military conflict with Iran.

The call was welcomed by al-Sistani, who had been encouraging al-Sadr to arrive at such a decision since January 200. The two met in June to discuss the problem of JaM splinter groups.

Najaf and Tehran both share an interest in containing Muqtada and his militia, as well as bringing his paramilitary organization - and other shadowy anti-Najaf movements - under the control of the Shi'ite clerical establishment. For Najaf and Tehran, the best way to tame Muqtada is to chip away at his popular base through the electoral process and intra-Shi'ite negotiations, such as the October 2007 cooperation pact with rival Shi'ite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. This would, accordingly, diminish his status as a charismatic militant leader defiant of existing institutions.

He wants to be an establishment figure and the establishment wants to perpetuate itself, an ideal marriage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 13, 2008 1:28 PM

Kill him now, or we'll probably have to do it a few years down the road.

Posted by: ratbert at February 13, 2008 3:59 PM

In a few years he'll be Menachem Begin.

Posted by: oj at February 13, 2008 7:43 PM

He wants to be the Iraqi Ruhollah Khomeini.

Posted by: ratbert at February 13, 2008 9:33 PM

W was Iraq's Khomeini.

Posted by: oj at February 13, 2008 11:46 PM