Muqtada al-Sadr

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Muqtada Al-Sadr

Muqtada al-Sadr (مقتدى الصدر translit: Muqtadà aṣ-Ṣadr) (b. August 12, 1973) is the fourth son of the famous Iraqi Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr and son-in-law of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir As-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 resistance movement 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 expressed an intention to "capture or kill" him. Then 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 with the intent to kill him. In October 2006, he made public appearances with the current president of Iraq raising controversy over his influence in the new government.


[edit] Honorific titles

His name is formally given as Hojatoleslam Sayyid Muqtada Al-Sadir. The prefixed title Hojatoleslam literally means Authority on, or Scholar of, Islam and is an academic title indicating a middle-ranking Shia cleric. (The equivalent of a Ph.D. candidate if Ayatollah is taken as the equivalent of Professor. This rank does not convey the authority of ijtihad or interpretation of the Quran nor does it convey the authority to issue religious edicts or Fatwas. Sayyid is generally used among the Shia to denote persons descending directly from the prophet Mohammad.) The Al-Sadr family have a clear and distinct lineage that can be traced directly to the Prophet Muhammad. The lineage is traced through Imam Jafar al-Sadiq and his son Imam Musa al-Kahdim the sixth and seventh Shia Imams respectively. This direct and meticulously documented lineage is unprecedented even among the illustrious families in the Islamic world who claim such lineage. The Shia Muslims consider themselves the followers of Prophet Muhammad's bloodline, thus a great deal of respect and reverence is paid to the Sayyids throughout society.

[edit] History

The elder al-Sadr, a well-respected figure throughout the Shi'a world, was murdered along with two of his sons allegedly by the government of Saddam Hussein, though some believe it was by the Khoeis, in February 1999 in Najaf, the power center of the al-Sadr clan. Muqtada's father-in-law was executed by the Iraqi authorities 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.

[edit] Assassinations and violence

His relationships with other Shi'a clerics are tense and occasionally violent. Some of his followers are rumored to be responsible for the 10 April 2003 assassination of Imam Abdul Majid al-Khoei. This is accounted for by the fact that the perpetraters pulled Abdul Majid al-Khoei and his aide's bodies with ropes across some alleys near the Shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf and shouted slogans claiming vengeance for the assassination of al-Sadr. The al-Khoei Family, however, do not hold Muqtada Al-Sadr responsible and have blamed Ba'athists for the killing.

There was a dispute over 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. The traditional hereditary holder of the keys, Haidar Raifee fled for fear of his life after the fall of Saddam's regime. Mr. Raifee was widely known to be an agent of Saddam's Ba'ath party who had informed on countless Shia opponents of Saddam's regime. Many of these activists and their families were allegedly tortured and killed by Saddam's Mukhabarat, or secret police.

Al-Khoei, with the backing and protection of the U.S. and British armed forces felt that he was in a position to broker a reconciliation between the Shia masses represented by Muqtada Al-Sadr and the hereditary custodian of the Shrine (or Kiliadar), Haidar Raifee. Al-Khoi escorted Haidar Raifee from hiding back to his post at the mosque. Al-Khoei's support for Haidar Raifee 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 was used as a pretext for his murder by the Shia mob.

According to witnesses, at the mosque they were confronted by an angry mob, some of whom shouted "Raifee is back". They called him an "animal" and threatened to beat him with their sandals (a traditional Iraqi insult).<ref>Hammer, Joshua. "Murder at the Mosque", Newsweek, 2003-05-19. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref> According to reports, Al-Khoei fired his pistol in the air to get the crowd to back off. However, rather than retreating, the angry crowd surged at them. 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. The Al-Sadr family sent and published official condolences to the al-Khoei family. The initial warrant against Al-Sadr produced after U.S. forces decided to shut down his newspaper, Al-Hawza, alleged 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 (in complete contradiction of his kindess to Raifee). The charges against Al-Sadr had been kept under seal until his confrontation with U.S. led coalition forces leading some to speculate that they were a politically motivated pretext to remove Moqtada Al-Sadr from the national scene.

[edit] Opposition to the CPA

Shortly after the U.S. led coalition ousted the Hussein regime al-Sadr voiced opposition to the Coalition Provisional Authority 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.

[edit] 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.

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.<ref>"Bremer brands Moqtada Sadr an outlaw",, 2004-04-05. Retrieved on 2006-08-02.</ref> 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.

[edit] August 2004 hostilities

After the 4 June truce with the U.S. led coalition forces, al-Sadr claimed to take steps to disband the Mahdi army. In a statement, he called on resistance 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 resistance movement. Iraqi officials also assured al-Sadr that he was not to face arrest.<ref>"Sadr orders militia to quit Najaf", BBC News, 2004-06-16. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref>

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.<ref>Constable, Pamela. "Key Iraqi Conference On Track To Open", Washington Post, 2004-07-28, p. A12. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref> 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.<ref>Tarabay, Jamie. "Iraq Conference Hits Snag Before Start", Associated Press, 2004-07-25. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref> 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.<ref>"U.S. troops detain al-Sadr aide", Al Jazeera, 2004-07-31. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref> 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."[citation needed]

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.<ref>"Fighting flares around Sadr home", BBC News, 2004-08-02. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref><ref>Chu, Henry & Sanders, Edmund. "Iraqi bid to arrest al-Sadr fails", Los Angeles Times, August 8, 2004. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref><ref>Howard, Michael. "US troops kill 300 in Najaf raid", The Guardian, 2004-08-07. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref> 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.[citation needed]

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."<ref>Pitman, Todd. "Clashes in holy city as truce plea ignored", Edinburgh Evening News, 2004-08-06. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref> 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").<ref>Blomfield, Adrian. "'300 die' in battle for holy city as Iraqi truce ends", The Daily Telegraph, 2004-08-07. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref>

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 resistance was trapped in a cordon around the Imam Ali shrine. The Mahdi resistance 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 resistance movement to disarm and leave Najaf and U.S. troops to withdraw from the city. Resistance 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 resistance 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.<ref>Filkins, Dexter and Eckholm, Erik. "Talks to Disarm Rebel Shiites Collapses in Iraq", New York Times, 2004-09-01. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref> Fighting continued in Sadr City into October 2004, with the Mahdi resistance movement 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.

[edit] Opposition to the Proposed Iraqi Constitution

On August 26, 2005, an estimated one-hundred thousand Iraqis marched in support of al-Sadr and against the Proposed Iraqi constitution.[citation needed]

[edit] Capture of Amarah

On October 20, 2006, al-Sadr's Madhi Army seized control of Amarah in the south of Iraq. President of the United States George W. Bush was stated to have seen a possible parallel between the lead-up to the capture of Amarah and the 1968 Tet Offensive, which was seen to lead to the United States' withdrawal from the Vietnam War. The White House later said the President was not suggesting a similar turning point had been reached, rather that al-Sadr was trying to influence US elections.<ref></ref> Hundreds of militiamen linked to Muqtada al-Sadr battled local police and members of a rival Shi'ite militia in the southeastern city of Amarah, destroying police stations and seizing control of entire neighborhoods, in apparent retaliation for the arrest of one of their fighters. According to Western intelligence officials, though, Mr. Sadr appears to have lost control of part of his militia, which has splintered off into freelance death squads. In fact, it remained unclear whether he had approved the Amarah uprising before it began. Witnesses said a message from Mr. Sadr was blared over loudspeakers from vehicles in Amarah October 20, 2006, calling on gunmen to lay down their weapons. The order was widely disregarded.<ref>"Attack on Iraqi City Shows Militia’s Power", New York Times, 2006-10-20. Retrieved on 2006-10-20.</ref>

[edit] Positions

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] In his sermons and public interviews al-Sadr has demanded an immediate withdraw of all US led coalition forces, 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.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] 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 resistance movement (dubbed the "al-Mahdi Army"),<ref name = UnitedforPeace>Adams, Henry. "'The U.S. is not preventing chaos in Iraq, it is creating it'", United for Peace of Pierce County, WA, 2005-01-12. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref> estimated to number several thousand. The name of the resistance 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 resistance 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!"

[edit] 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 the Badr Organization have broken out with significant bloodshed resulting. However, Sistani has thus far refused to publicly chastise Sadr for the spring uprising against the US led coalition, instead decreeing that both sides should avoid incitement to violence and condemning the coalition for its tactics.

[edit] 2005 election

It is generally frowned upon in Iraq for clerics to actively 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.

[edit] 2006

On March 25 2006 Muqtada al-Sadr was in his home and escaped a mortar attack. This attack was a disputed attack on his home as the rounds landed more than 50 meters from his home.<ref>Salaheddin, Sinan. "Iraqi Cleric Al-Sadr Unharmed by Mortar", ABC News, 2006-03-26. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref>

Mr. Sadr’s considerable leverage was apparent early in the week of 16 October 2006, when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the release of one of Mr. Sadr’s senior aides. The aide had been arrested a day earlier by American troops on suspicion of participating in kidnappings and killings.<ref>Semple, Kirk. "Attack on Iraqi City Shows Militia’s Power", New York Times, 2006-10-20. Retrieved on 2006-10-22.</ref>

On October 25, 2006 U.S. soldiers uncovered a book after a raid in the Washash neighborhood in Baghdad with information about the Shi'ite militia affiliated to Muqtada al-Sadr, Mehdi Army had engaged in a systematic campaign of violence and intimidation to clear out Sunni residents in this town.<ref>Template:Timemag</ref>

[edit] 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 2004 that 67 percent of respondents supported him (with 32 percent offering "strongly support", and 36 percent saying they "somewhat support" him). He was the third most popular political figure, behind Ali Sistani but far ahead of Iyad Allawi, who was 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.)<ref>Hirsh, Michael. "Grim Numbers", Newsweek, 2004-06-16. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref><ref>"Public Opinion in Iraq: First Poll Following Abu Ghraib Revelations" (PDF), Newsweek, May 14-23, 2004. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref>

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.<ref>"Who's who in Iraq: Moqtada Sadr", BBC News, 2004-08-27. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.</ref> 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.<ref name = UnitedforPeace /> 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."

[edit] References

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[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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Muqtada al-Sadr

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