FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Sadr’s Dramatic Reappearance

by PATRICK COCKBURN

 

The nationalist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has reappeared before thousands of supporters for the first time in months to call for American troops to end the occupation of Iraq.

In an impassioned sermon to 6,000 worshippers in a mosque in the holy city of Kufa al-Sadr, wearing a white martyr’s cloak thrown over his dark robes, he cried: “No, no to Satan! No, no to America! No, no to the occupation! No, no to Israel!”

He had appeared earlier in the morning in the nearby shrine city of Najaf to travel in a long motorcade to Kufa to deliver the Friday sermon.

Mr Sadr, leader of a powerful Shia political movement and the much-feared Mehdi Army militia, disappeared some four months ago, evidently fearing that he would be targeted by the US. But he stood down his militiamen as the US Army introduced a security plan for Baghdad and avoided an all-out confrontation with the US.

In his sermon yesterday he forcefully demanded an end to the US-led occupation and offered reconciliation to Sunni Arabs. The Sadrist movement, founded by Muqtada’s murdered father, Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, in the 1990s, has always been nationalist but the Mehdi Army is hated by many Sunnis for its death squads and sectarian cleansing.

Surrounded by guards and aides in Kufa al-Sadr, Mr Sadr declared: “I renew my demand for the occupiers to leave or draw up a timetable for withdrawal, and I ask the government not to let the occupiers extend the occupation even for one day.” He has removed six Sadrist ministers from the government, citing its failure to set a timetable for American departure.

Mr Sadr’s demand for an end to the occupation is likely to resonate in Iraq where the Sunni community has favoured this since the invasion of 2003 and the majority Shia community has increasingly wanted a timetable for a withdrawal, according to opinion polls. The Sadrists have been meeting with anti-al-Qa’ida Sunni tribal leaders from Anbar to discuss forming a common front. Sectarian suspicions between Shia and Sunni are so deep and bitter, however, that differences will be difficult to bridge.

There has been escalating intra-Shia fighting in southern Iraq over the past two months with skirmishes in all the main Shia cities. Often the police and security forces are simply militiamen in uniform.

Yesterday, Mr Sadr condemned fighting between the Mehdi Army and Iraqi security forces, saying that this served “the interests of the occupiers”. He said that he preferred peaceful protests and sit-ins.

In an attempt to refurbish his reputation as a non-sectarian nationalist, Mr Sadr said he was ready to co-operate with Sunnis “on all issues”. He added: “I am completely ready to defend them [Sunnis and Christians] and be their armour against their enemies.”

Mr Sadr has been out of Iraq in Iran and Lebanon according to one of his aides, abandoning the Sadrist claim that he never left Iraq. He seems to have returned about a week ago, at which time Iraqis talking to Sadrist leaders noticed that they seemed to be able to reach him rapidly by phone on landlines, though there are no landlines to Iran.

His return now is probably explained by the damage his prolonged absence was doing to his movement. It is very dependent on the cult-like devotion felt towards the 33-year-old Mr Sadr by millions of poor and devout Shias.
Previously unheard of by the outside world, he emerged as a surprisingly powerful leader in 2003 at the time of the fall of Saddam Hussein. He inherited much of the authority of his father, who was assassinated with two of his sons by Saddam Hussein’s agents in Najaf in 1999.

The Sadrist movement’s blend of Islam, Iraqi nationalism and populism has proved highly attractive to Shia, particularly those who are very poor. The US tried and failed to eliminate Mr Sadr in two armed confrontations in April and August 2004. The Sadrist movement survived and went on to do well in the parliamentary elections of 2005, gaining 32 seats in the 275-member national assembly and six ministerial posts.

A further reason for Mr Sadr’s return now is the growing competition between his supporters and those of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) led by the ailing Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who has been diagnosed with lung cancer. SIIC, formed under Iranian auspices in Tehran in 1982, has been trying with some success to rid itself of the imputation that it is subservient to Iran.

The Sadrists, by contrast, were traditionally hostile to Iran but under US pressure have increasingly come to depend on Tehran’s support.

The Sadrists and SIIC are the main components of the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shia front supported by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the religious hierarchy or Marjai’iyyah. Much though they dislike each other, they will be under pressure from the grand ayatollah not to divide the Shia community.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq‘, a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.

 

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

May 05, 2016
David L. Glotzer
Welcome to Fortified Europe: the Militarization of Europe’s Borders
Adam Szetela
Beyoncé’s “Formation” and the Boutique Activism of the Left
Bruce Lerro
Lost at Sea: Left Liberals Have No Party
Paul Cochrane
Hot Air in the Saudi Desert: a Kingdom in Descent?
Brian Terrell
My Visit to a Las Vegas Jail
Judith Deutsch
The Military’s “Securitization” of Climate Change
Phyllis Bennis
Kunduz Bombing: Proof the Pentagon Should Not Be Allowed to Investigate Itself for War Crimes
Chad Nelson
When Compassion is Terrorism: Animal Rights in a Post-911 World
Dan Arel
Making Sanders’ Dream a Reality Through Political Activism
Kent Paterson
Ten Years Later: Reflections on the Legacies of Immigrant Spring
Serge Halimi
Why Firefighters are Against Free Trade
Andrew Stewart
Green Bernie or Green Party Machine?
Binoy Kampmark
Yuri Gagarin in Space: the Politics of Cosmic Discovery
Hayes Rowan
This Naming of Things
May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s China-Bashing
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail