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.

More articles by:
May 31, 2016
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
Imperial Blues: On Whitewashing Dictatorship in the 21st Century
Vijay Prashad
Stoking the Fires: Trump and His Legions
Patrick Howlett-Martin
Libya: How to Bring Down a Nation
Uri Avnery
What Happened to Netanyahu?
Corey Payne
Reentry Through Resistance: Détente with Cuba was Accomplished Through Resistance and Solidarity, Not Imperial Benevolence
Bill Quigley
From Tehran to Atlanta: Social Justice Lawyer Azadeh Shahshahani’s Fight for Human Rights
Manuel E. Yepe
Trump, Sanders and the Exhaustion of a Political Model
Bruce Lerro
“Network” 40 Years Later: Capitalism in Retrospect and Prospect and Elite Politics Today
Robert Hunziker
Chile’s Robocops
Aidan O'Brien
What’ll It be Folks: Xenophobia or Genocide?
Binoy Kampmark
Emailgate: the Clinton Spin Doctors In Action
Colin Todhunter
The Unique Risks of GM Crops: Science Trumps PR, Fraud and Smear Campaigns
Dave Welsh
Jessica Williams, 29: Another Black Woman Gunned Down By Police
Gary Leupp
Rules for TV News Anchors, on Memorial Day and Every Day
May 30, 2016
Ron Jacobs
The State of the Left: Many Movements, Too Many Goals?
James Abourezk
The Intricacies of Language
Porfirio Quintano
Hillary, Honduras, and the Murder of My Friend Berta
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes on ISIS are Reducing Their Cities to Ruins
Uri Avnery
The Center Doesn’t Hold
Raouf Halaby
The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored
Rodrigue Tremblay
Barack Obama’s Legacy: What Happened?
Matt Peppe
Just the Facts: The Speech Obama Should Have Given at Hiroshima
Deborah James
Trade Pacts and Deregulation: Latest Leaks Reveal Core Problem with TISA
Michael Donnelly
Still Wavy After All These Years: Flower Geezer Turns 80
Ralph Nader
The Funny Business of Farm Credit
Paul Craig Roberts
Memorial Day and the Glorification of Past Wars
Colin Todhunter
From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never Serve the Public Good
Rivera Sun
White Rose Begins Leaflet Campaigns June 1942
Tom H. Hastings
Field Report from the Dick Cheney Hunting Instruction Manual
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail