Muqtada al-Sadr

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Muqtada al-Sadr

Muqtada al-Sadr (Arabic: مقتدى الصدر, also transliterated as Moqtada Alsadr) (born c. 1974) is the son of the famous Iraqi Shia cleric Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr. As of early 2004, he was the de facto ruler of the Sadr City section of Baghdad and commanded the loyalty of the Mahdi Army, an insurgent force making a bid for power in Iraq. Clashes with U.S. forces in April were followed by a truce in June, and mixed signals from al-Sadr after his promises to disband his militia and become involved in the political process. The Coalition Provisional Authority had on several occasions threatened to arrest al-Sadr, and in early April 2004 issued an arrest warrant, alleging his involvement in a homicide (see below). U.S. military commanders expressing an intention to "capture or kill" him. Al-Sadr had agreed to disband his army and join the political process, and he was given assurances that he would not face arrest and be allowed to stand in the 2005 elections. However, tensions rose again in August, and U.S. and Iraqi forces decided to move against al-Sadr and his militia.

Contents

Honorific titles

His name is often prefixed with the honorific titles Hojatoleslam (indicating a middle-ranking Shia cleric of the rank of mujtahid, although in fact al-Sadr has not achieved this rank) or Sayyid (generally used to denote persons descending directly from the prophet Mohammad). He is also often called Sheik by his followers and other admirers. Again, this is an honorific title, indicating a leader ("Sir" would be an approximate equivalent in English).

History

The elder al-Sadr, a well-respected figure throughout the Shi'a world, was murdered along with two of his sons by the government of Saddam Hussein in February 1999 in Najaf, the power center of the al-Sadr clan. Muqtada's father-in-law was also killed by the same regime in 1980. As Muqtada al-Sadr lacks the religious education and degrees required by Shia doctrines, he does not claim the title of mujtahid (the equivalent of a senior religious scholar) or the authority to issue fatwas (religious edicts), consequently he bases his religious authority on his lineage alone.

Assassinations and violence

His relationship with other Shi'a clerics is tense and occasionally (allegedly) violent. He is rumored to be responsible for the 10 April 2003 assassination of Imam Abdul Majid al-Khoei and several other prominent attacks, including the car bombing assassination of rival Shi'a leader Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim; however, Hakim's supporters blamed Baathists for the attack.

His dispute with al-Khoei originated when he demanded the keys to the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf. The mosque contains the tomb of Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and, according to Shi'a belief, heir to the Prophet's legacy. It is among the most sacred Shi'a site, and also the source of a considerable amount of revenue.

Al-Khoei refused to deal with al-Sadr, and instead escorted the custodian of the shrine, an extremely unpopular Baath loyalist named Haidar Raifee, from hiding back to his post at the mosque. Because the Baathists under Saddam had brutally oppressed the Shias, the presence of a Baathist at the most sacred Shia shrine—and Al-Khoei's support for him—would be considered an extreme provocation by the Shia public in the city. Having lived 12 years in exile in Britain and having met with Tony Blair and Jack Straw, Al-Khoei had been handpicked by the Americans and British to become a prominent leader in the Shi'a community in Iraq. Al-Khoei was thus accused by many of being a puppet for American interests. His support for the Baathist Raifee might have been the last straw needed to infuriate the Shia crowds.

According to witnesses, at the mosque they were confronted by an angry mob, some of whom are reported to have shouted "Raifee is back" and others "Long live al-Sadr"[1] (http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3068555). The mob killed Raifee with bayonets and knives; al-Khoei was chased down and killed in an alley near the nearby headquarters of al-Sadr. Al-Sadr claims the murderers were not his followers and that he in fact sent men to save al-Khoei from the murderers, but he seemed unconcerned over the death; additionally witnesses say that members of the mob claimed to be there on al-Sadr's orders, and that he had instructed them not to kill al-Khoei inside the mosque. Al-Kohei's close followers did not blame al-Sadr for the murder, but instead publicly blamed former Baath party members who also hated al-Khoei.

Al-Sadr's supporters were reported to be involved in an attack on a group of students in Basra who were having a picnic in a park. Several of the sudents were killed. Senior al-Sadr loyalists said that they had a duty to stop the students' "dancing, sexy dress and corruption." One, Sheik Ahmed al-Basri, said "We beat them because we are authorised by Allah to do so and that is our duty." [2] (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,7374-1537512,00.html) One of the students described what happened: "They started shouting at us that we were immoral, that we were meeting boys and girls together and playing music and that this was against Islam. They began shooting in the air and people screamed. Then, with one order, they began beating us with their sticks and rifle butts."

Opposition to the CPA

In the initial phases of the occupation, al-Sadr was vocally opposed to the Coalition Provisional Authority occupation and stated that he had more legitimacy than the Coalition-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). In September 2003, he declared a shadow government in opposition to the IGC officials chosen by the U.S. currently governing Iraq. This initiative petered out, as it was opposed by both the CPA and al-Sistani's faction. There were several instances of skirmishes between his followers and the occupying forces in the Sadr City ghetto.

Al-Hawza and Rebellion

At the end of March 2004, Coalition authorities in Iraq shut down Sadr's newspaper, Al Hawza, on charges of inciting violence (as a side note, al-Hawza is also the name of a religious college in Najaf which was headed by his father). The Coalition authorities said false reporting, including articles that ascribed suicide bombings to Americans, could touch off violence.

Sadr responded by mobilizing many Shi'a followers to demonstrations protesting the closure of the newspaper; the demonstrations escalated throughout the week in number and militancy. On April 4 fighting broke out in Najaf, Sadr City and Basra. Sadr's al-Mahdi Army took over several points and attacked coalition soldiers, killing dozens and taking many casualties of its own in the process. At the same time Sunni rebels in the cities of Baghdad, Samarra, Ramadi and most notably Fallujah staged uprisings as well, causing to date the most serious challenge to coalition control of Iraq. In Fallujah especially Sunni rebels were most successful, controlling the city until a U.S.-led assault recaptured it in November 2004.

Paul Bremer, then the U.S. administrator in Iraq, declared on April 5, 2004 that the militant cleric was an outlaw and that uprisings by the cleric and his followers would not be tolerated. [3] (http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=9514) It emerged that some months earlier an Iraqi judge had issued an arrest warrant for al-Sadr on charges relating to the murder of al-Khoei; this had apparently been kept secret for some time but was now announced publicly by Bremer. Several senior U.S. politicians opined that the revolt would push back the date for the transfer of power to the IGC, but the handover nevertheless occurred on June 28, 2004, two days ahead of schedule.

August 2004 hostilities

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Iraqi Shi'ites arrive in Najaf in a show of support for Muqtada al-Sadr on 14 August 2004

After the 4 June truce with the occupation forces, al-Sadr took steps to disband the Madhi army. In a statement, he called on militia members from outside Najaf to "do their duty" and go home. U.S. forces in Najaf were then replaced by Iraqi police. Al-Sadr told supporters not to attack Iraqi security forces and set himself up to become a political force, announcing his intention to form a party and contest the 2005 elections. He said the interim government was an opportunity to build a unified Iraq. Interim President Ghazi Yawer gave assurances that al-Sadr could join the political process, provided he abandoned his militia. Iraqi officials also assured al-Sadr that he was not to face arrest. [4] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3811215.stm)

Despite the promises of the Iraqi government, in late July Sadr announced his intention to boycott the upcoming national conference, as did the Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni organization linked to al-Sadr [5] (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A17751-2004Jul27?language=printer). Although al-Sadr initially promised to support the conference, he changed his mind, claiming through a spokesman that it was "a sad joke" and "a trick on the Iraqi people" because of the allegedly undemocratic process for selecting the delegates. [6] (http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/iraq/election/2004/0725conference.htm) On 31 July, al-Sadr's representative in Karbala, Sheikh Mithal al Hasnawi, and al-Hasnawi's brother were captured by U.S. and Iraqi National Guard troops in a joint raid [7] (http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/91BF4565-6C81-45AC-BE9E-4779F01702AA.htm). Sadr representatives condemned the move, reportedly saying "We demand that they be freed, and if this is ignored then we will respond at the appropriate time" [8] (http://www.turkishpress.com/turkishpress/news.asp?ID=23476).

The June settlement was broken after Iraqi policemen and U.S. troops surrounded al-Sadr's home on 3 August, resulting in heavy gunfire, mortar shelling and grenade blasts. The apparent aim was to arrest al-Sadr and destroy his movement. [9] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3528992.stm), [10] (http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2004/08/08/iraqi_bid_to_arrest_al_sadr_fails/), [11] (http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=04/08/03/1359246), [12] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1278178,00.html) The decision to extend a firefight into extended combat is reported to have been made by U.S. Marines, without the approval of the Pentagon or the Allawi government.[13] (http://www.indystar.com/articles/7/171252-1377-010.html)

On August 5, via his spokesman Ahmed al-Shaibany, al-Sadr reaffirmed his commitment to the truce and called on U.S. forces to honor the truce. He announced that if the restoration of the ceasefire failed "then the firing and igniting of the revolution will continue." [14] (http://edinburghnews.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=902792004) The offer was rejected by the governor of Najaf, Adnan al-Zurufi ("There is no compromise or room for another truce") and U.S. officials ("This is one battle we really do feel we can win") [15] (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/08/07/wirq07.xml)

In the days that followed, fighting continued around the old city of Najaf, in particular the Imam Ali shrine and the cemetery. The Mahdi army was heavily outnumbered by some 2,000 U.S. marines and 1,800 Iraqi government security forces, and outgunned by superior U.S. firepower, including attack helicopters. On August 13, the militia was trapped in a cordon around the Imam Ali shrine. The Mahdi militia is thought to have suffered hundreds of casualties in the fighting, while U.S. Marine casualties were fairly light. More information on the Standoff in Najaf can be found under the article on the Iraqi insurgency.

On August 25, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, arrived in Iraq and began travelling with a "peace convoy" towards Najaf "to stop the bloodshed." By the next day, an agreement brokered by Sistani required the Mahdi militia to disarm and leave Najaf and U.S. troops to withdraw from the city. Militia men began handing in their weapons after al-Sadr asked them to do so and leave the complex escorted by worshippers. The U.S. welcomed the agreement and vowed to respect a ceasefire. U.S. forces have stayed out of the center of Najaf since, and as of September 2004 the city was largely under the control of the Iraqi police.

On August 30, a tentative peace agreement was reached between the Iraqi government and al-Sadr to disarm his militia in Sadr City, Baghdad. But the next day, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi unilaterally pulled out of talks, cancelling the peace proposal. The New York Times reported that Allawi had wanted to enter in armed conflict with al-Sadr due to his rising popularity after the standoff in Najaf. [16] (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/01/international/middleeast/01shiite.html?ex=1251691200&en=1a4d73f023e518ee&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland) Fighting continued in Sadr City into October 2004, with the Mahdi militia sustaining losses numbering in the hundreds. The physical infrastructure of Sadr City also suffered damage during this period and there were reports of substantial civilian casualties. Ultimately al-Sadr agreed to a ceasefire, and subsequently agreed to participate in the January 2005 election process.

Positions

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Iraqi Shi'ites arrive in Najaf in a show of support for Muqtada al-Sadr in August 2004.

Muqtada al-Sadr gained popularity among younger Iraqis following the toppling of the Hussein government by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, mostly owing to his status as his father's son, as he has no formal religious standing to interpret the Koran and relies for religious advice on an Iranian cleric exiled in Iraq, Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri. The al-Sadr faction is opposed by the al-Hakim family and their supporters. Al-Sadr, a junior cleric, is believed to be building a messianic movement. [17] (http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=reutersEdge&storyID=4756191&section=news). It is common belief that al-Sadr wishes to create an Islamic theocracy in Iraq, although al-Sadr himself has on occasion stated that he wishes to create an "Islamic democracy." In April 2004 he initiated a revolt against the coalition of forces occupying Iraq.

As of August 19, 2004, U.S. officials express puzzlement as to al-Sadr's motivations and goals.[18] (http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/apmideast_story.asp?category=1107&slug=Solving%20Al%20Sadr) In his sermons and public interviews al-Sadr has demanded an immediate end to the occupation, all foreign troops under United Nations control, and the establishment of a new central Iraqi government, not connected to the Ba'ath party or the current Allawi government. He has declared that the Allawi government is illegitimate, and he refuses to cooperate with them; however, his disapproval waxes and wanes depending on the success of negotiations with the interim government. He envisions a Shia-dominated government, much like Iran's, but independent from Iran.[19] (http://www.juancole.com/2004_08_01_juancole_archive.html#109290118038441426)

Relation with Shi'ites and Clerics

Al-Sadr commands strong support (especially in the Sadr City ghetto in Baghdad, formerly called Saddam City but renamed after the elder al-Sadr). In June 2003 he raised a militia (dubbed the "al-Mahdi Army"), [20] (http://www.ufppc.org/content/view/2069/) estimated to number several thousand. The name of the militia refers to the Mahdi, an imam who is said by Muslims to be due to appear in messianic form during the last days of the world. This militia has several times engaged in violent conflict with Coalition forces and has formed its own religious courts and prisons. His militants rally under the cry: "Sadr is great! Long live Muqtada!"

Relations with al-Sistani

Relations with the most powerful cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have also been tense. Al-Sistani's more conservative clerical leadership is often in conflict with the radical young al-Sadr. Al-Sistani is said by observers to draw support from established, property-owning Shi'ites, while Muqtada al-Sadr's support is strongest among the urban poor, many of whom see him as their champion. Additionally the murder of al-Khoei, the son of al-Sistani's mentor, may be a source of tension.

The conflict is more about temporal than spiritual matters; al-Sistani controls donations from pilgrims and wealthy donors, which al-Sadr also apparently covets. His followers attempted to seize control of the al-Sistani-controlled holy sites in Karbala in October 2003 but were repulsed, with dozens of people killed and injured. Armed clashes between al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army and al-Sistani's Badr Army have broken out with significant bloodshed resulting. However, Sistani has thus far refused to publicly chastize Sadr for the spring uprising against the occupation, instead decreeing that both sides should avoid incitement to violence and condemning the coalition for its tactics.

2005 election

It is generally frowned upon in Iraq for clerics to activily participate in secular politics, and like the other leading religious figures Muqtada al-Sadr did not run in the 2005 Iraqi election. It is believed he implicitly backed the National Independent Cadres and Elites party which was closely linked with his Mahdi Army. Many of his supporters, however, backed the far more popular United Iraqi Alliance of al-Sistani. If as expected the UIA emerges as the dominant force in the new Iraqi government al-Sadr will have some influence over a faction of that party.

Popularity

The popularity of al-Sadr's movement is under debate. Some in the American press referred to him and his followers as little more than thugs, and the Coalition Provisional Authority continually refer to him as having little support. But a US-sponsored poll reported in June that 67 percent respondents support him (with 32 percent offering "strongly support", and 36 percent saying they "somewhat support" him). In the poll, he is the third most popular political figure, behind Ali Sistani but far ahead of interim PM Iyad Allawi who is opposed by 61 percent and supported by only 23 percent of respondents. (This poll was taken before Allawi became prime minister.) Despite al-Sadr's popularity, only two percent of respondents selected him as their first choice for President of Iraq. (Allawi, who soon after became Prime Minister, received far less support in this category as well.)[21] (http://financialtimes.printthis.clickability.com/pt/cpt?action=cpt&title=Iraq%27s+rebel+cleric+gains+surge+in+popularity&expire=&urlID=10302622&fb=Y&url=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.ft.com%2Fs01%2Fservlet%2FContentServer%3Fpagename%3DFT.com%2FStoryFT%2FFullStory%26c%3DStoryFT%26cid%3D1084907692167%26p%3D1012571727085&partnerID=1734) [22] (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5217874/site/newsweek/)[23] (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5217741/site/newsweek/)

The sacred Imam Ali mosque has reportedly been issuing prayers for his safety during the call for prayer, and images of his face have been plastered all over the south of Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr's real power base are a network of Shia charitable institutions, founded by his father, that distributed food in poor Shia areas.

His strongest support comes from the class of dispossessed Shia, like in the Sadr City area of Baghdad. Many Iraqi supporters see in him a symbol of resistance to foreign occupation. [24] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3131330.stm) It is true that he does not have strong popularity in Najaf, where he is blamed along with U.S. forces for provoking the standoff and the resulting violence. But sociologist Michael Schwartz (SUNY-Stony Brook) argues that al-Sadr's supporters in Sadr City constitute a "proto-government" with many of the trappings of established legitimacy. [25] (http://www.ufppc.org/content/view/2069/) Naomi Klein, writing in the Nation, has called al-Sadr and his supporters "the single greatest threat to U.S. military and economic control of Iraq."

See also

External links

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