April 6, 2008


Muqtada al-Sadr has Iraq's future in his hands: a review of Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq by Patrick Cockburn (Con Coughlin, 4/06/08, Daily Telegraph)

[A]s Patrick Cockburn explains in his biography of Muqtada, the forces challenging Iraq's post-Saddam political settlement are just as well organised and are determined to mould the new Iraq in their, and not the West's, image.

Of all the Iraqi political figures to emerge following Saddam's overthrow five years ago, Muqtada is by far the most charismatic and, if Washington is to be believed, the one who poses the greatest threat to Iraq's survival as a democratic and secular political entity.

Born in 1973 into one of the country's pre-eminent Shia clerical families, Muqtada experienced first-hand the brutality of Saddam's dictatorship as his family paid a heavy price for daring to challenge the Baathist regime. In 1980, when Muqtada was seven, his grandfather Baqir, and Baqir's sister Amina, were hanged by Saddam for refusing to condemn the Iranian revolution.

Cockburn reveals that the family were told that Saddam's torturers had hammered an iron nail into Baqir's head, and raped Amina in front of him, before they went to the gallows.

Nineteen years later, Muqtada's own father and his two brothers were gunned down by Saddam's assassins for trying to organise effective resistance against the regime amongst the oppressed Shia community of southern Iraq.

According to Cockburn, Muqtada himself only escaped the attentions of Saddam's henchmen because the regime thought he lacked intelligence, and did not regard him as a serious political player.

Muqtada was therefore left alone and allowed to inherit the elaborate underground network of Shia militants established by his father and brothers, which was to come into its own the moment coalition forces succeeded in their objective of overthrowing Saddam's regime in April 2003.

Like the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, Muqtada and his Shia supporters were delighted to see the back of Saddam, but they were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of their liberators becoming occupiers.

As Muqtada himself remarked after the coalition's military campaign had ended, 'The smaller devil has gone but the bigger devil has come.'

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 6, 2008 8:59 AM

The piece correctly notes that Mookie arose from relative obscurity - but fails to note that he started his climb by murdering a senior Shi'a cleric in the first few weeks after the US invasion (al-Khoie). Cockburn probably discusses it in his book, but this is really what got Mookie (and the JAM) rolling.

For a time, it appeared Sistani was worried about his own safety (it is difficult to know how many of the attempts on Sistani's life since 2003 were Shi'a and how many were Al Qaeda, or from Iran).

Mookie is a gangster and a goon. Always has been, always will be.

Posted by: ratbert at April 6, 2008 9:42 PM

As a Sadr he could never be obscure, though he was discounted, mistakenly.

Menachem Begin was nothing more than a murderous thug either. Didn't slow his rise much.

Posted by: oj at April 7, 2008 6:25 AM

Begin was a thug in 1948. He became PM 30 years later. Likud was a minor party until the aftermath of the 1973 war.

If Mookie spends 25 years in seminary, then he will be paralleling Begin. But for now, not so much.

Posted by: ratbert at April 7, 2008 7:30 AM

Yes, a couple decades is about right. To a conservative that's a blink of an eye.

He's even not unlikely to be needed after the secular biff a war with Sunni Arabs, as Begin was.

Posted by: oj at April 7, 2008 12:52 PM