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Iraq Profile: Moqtada al-Sadr
Moqtada Al-Sadr was born in 1974, the son of one of the most illustrious Shi'a religious families in Iraq, the Al-Sadr family. His father, Ayatollah Muhammad Sadeq Al-Sadr, was assassinated together with two of his sons by the Saddam Hussein regime in 1999. After the death of his father, Moqtada became a student of Iranian Ayatollah Kadhem Al-Ha'iri. Aside from his native country, Iraq, Iran is the only other country Moqtada is familiar with, and his relations with the Iranian religious establishment invite speculations about his politics. Moqtada Al-Sadr admitted that the situation in Iraq today differs from the situation that prevailed in Iran during the Islamic revolution in 1979. He said: "The political and social nature of Iraq will not allow the repetition of the Iran experiment."
Unlike Al-Sistani, who has not left his home in six years and who has communicated with the outside world through intermediaries, Moqtada Al-Sadr is media savvy. While he does not shy away from conflicts, he is careful not to go overboard. With name recognition, thanks to his father, whose photographs adorn every store front in the Al-Sadr city, he is capable of attracting tens of thousands of followers from across Iraq. His greatest appeal is to the poor and the disenfranchised, and not a few of Saddam's former supporters who share his abhorrence of the Governing Council.
Base of Power:
Al-Sadr City – an Autonomous Entity Since the defeat of Saddam, the city named after him, Saddam City, has become Al-Sadr City, named after Moqtada Al-Sadr's father. Inhabited by more than one million Shi'a loyal to Al-Sadr, the city has developed its own municipal, educational, medical, and social services. In addition, there are "courts" presided over by young judges, followers of Moqtada Al-Sadr, who adjudicate conflicts between people, and whose verdicts are carried out by "security committees." The courts follow the Shari'a (Islamic law), and those who refer to them accept their verdicts as binding. There are observers who compare these young student-judges to the students of the religious schools in Pakistan who later became the nucleus of the Taliban movement. As part of the Islamization of life in Al-Sadr City, Al-Sadr issued a Fatwa forbidding the sale of videos and of liquor.
BBC Profile: Moqtada Sadr
In the first weeks following the US-led invasion, Moqtada Sadr's followers patrolled the streets in the poor Shia suburbs of Baghdad, distributing food.
His name clearly has powerful resonances - the Shia district of Baghdad, Saddam City, has been renamed Sadr City.
In June 2003 he established a militia group, the Mehdi Army, in defiance of coalition arms controls, pledging the Shia religious authorities in the holy city of Najaf.
He also announced the establishment of a rival government to the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, but the move came to nothing.
Moqtada Sadr has also set up a weekly newspaper, al-Hawza. The US-led authorities announced a 60-day ban on the newspaper on 28 March 2004, accusing it of inciting anti-US violence.
The young cleric is known for giving fiery sermons which urge the application of Islamic law while appealing to Iraqi national pride.
In contrast to more moderate clerics such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Moqtada Sadr calls on Shia spiritual leaders to play an active role in shaping Iraq's political future.
Hojatoleslam Muqtada al-Sadr (b. 1974?) is a young Iraqi Shi'a cleric, the son of the famous Shi'a cleric Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr. The elder al-Sadr, a well-respected figure throughout the Shi'a world, was killed with two of his sons by the Saddam Hussein government in February 1999 in Al-Najaf, the power-center of the al-Sadr clan
Muqtada is vocally opposed to the American occupation and has stated that he has more legitimacy than the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. In September 2003, he declared a shadow government in opposition to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that is currently governing Iraq. It is common belief that al-Sadr wishes to create an Islamic theocracy in Iraq, although al-Sadr himself has stated that he wishes to create an "Islamic democracy". Though he has always opposed the American occupation, and has harsh words for anyone he considers as supporting it, at times he has hinted that if the Governing Council is given more authority and expanded to include "other parties", he might be mollified.
Al-Sadr commands strong support (especially in the Sadr City ghetto in Baghdad, named after his father), and has raised a militia dubbed the "Imam Mahdi Army", which has several times engaged in violent conflicts with occupation forces. He is rumored to be responsible for the 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.
The CPA has on several occassions threatened to arrest al-Sadr, but so far has not attempted to do so, possibly due to the threat of civil unrest as a result.
What is his base of support?
Young, impoverished Iraqi Shiites, many of whom are concentrated in Sadr City, a vast Baghdad slum of 2 million previously called Saddam City and renamed for the senior Sadr after Saddam’s fall. One reason for his popularity: his aggressively anti-U.S. pronouncements tap a vein of frustration among Shiites in a way that Sistani’s more moderate stance does not. Sadr’s followers have been making a play for support in Basra and other Iraqi Shiite towns. Sadr, like Sistani and the Shiite hierarchy, is based in Najaf, a city holy to Shiites because it contains the tomb of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law and the top leader, or Caliph, of Islam in the 7th century. But in Najaf and Iraq’s other holy Shiite city, Karbala, Sadr’s support remains very limited, says Juan Cole, an expert on Iraqi Shiites at the University of Michigan.
What actions have his supporters taken to challenge U.S. authority?
Since the fall of Baghdad, Sadr supporters have seized control of many aspects of life inside Sadr City—appointing clerics to mosques, guarding hospitals, collecting garbage, operating orphanages, and imposing Islamic dress codes, according to a report by the International Crisis Group. Because the neighborhood remained relatively peaceful—few anti-coalition attacks have occurred there—U.S. authorities did not interfere much with Sadr’s organization until September, when they arrested a Sadr-affiliated cleric who appeared to be backing attacks on coalition forces. On October 16, Sadr’s faction—whose challenges to U.S. authority were increasingly brazen—attempted to take over the building that housed the offices of the U.S.-appointed Sadr City neighborhood council and install its own leaders. U.S. forces moved in and kicked out Sadr’s men, arresting 12.
Guardian UK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1186164,00.html
Al Jazeera: http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/815FF50A-4D63-43CB-A404-84DF9E6CDF70.htm
Global Security: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/al-sadr.htm
A day after al-Sadr announced the formation of his "Iraqi government" in defiance of the US-led occupation, a large crowd gathered in the city of Najaf, pledging their whole-hearted support.
"We are ready to sacrifice our souls for you, Sadr," chanted the demonstrators as they roamed the streets of the city.
A firebrand cleric, al-Sadr had announced the formation of the government during his weekly sermon in the town of Kufa.
November 1st 2003
WASHINGTON; In a high-stakes escalation of US strategy in Iraq, the Bush administration has decided after an intense internal debate to work with Iraqi security forces to crack down on the radical Shiite leader, Muqtada Sadr.
Administration officials were reluctant to disclose details of the new approach for fear of tipping their hand to Sadr. But they said the Pentagon had concluded it was crucial to show resolve in the face of Sadr’s attacks over recent months on Americans and their Iraqi allies.
“A decision was made to move against Sadr head-on because he crossed a red line. The US military believes he is responsible for the deaths of Americans and Iraqis and is actively hostile to the American presence,’’ explained Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer and now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Gerecht, an expert on Shiite Islam, has occasionally advised the administration about Iraq.
The decision to clip Sadr’s wings carries risks because it could trigger a reaction within the Shiite Muslim community, which has been America’s key ally in Iraq. So far, the senior Shiite clergy in Najaf have tacitly supported the US-led occupation, and most of the Shiite population has followed the clergy’s lead. If the United States ever lost that support, its position in Iraq would quickly become untenable in the view of many analysts.
Baghdad, Feb 23 2004, IRNA -- An influential Shiite Iraqi cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, has dismissed UN backing of the US position that it would not be feasible to hold elections before the June 30 date that Washington has set for handing back power to the Iraqis. In an interview with IRNA here, the young cleric did not mince his words to say, "The United Nations has no right to interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq.
"The United Nations has connived with the occupation of Iraq," Sadr said, and proposed that two key Islamic bodies supervise the process of elections in the war-torn country.
"The issue of the elections must be under the supervision of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Arab League since these two formations are closer to Iraq than the United Nations," he said.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan vetoed any elections prior to June 30 after sending a fact-finding mission to Iraq this month to assess the possibility of holding elections.
The decision crushed Shiite hopes for elections in Iraq before the end of the occupation, in a victory for US officials who have revealed their plans to hand over sovereignty to an unelected government.
Asked to comment on the decision, al-Sadr said, "I believed from the beginning that the occupiers did not want democracy and freedom to be dominant in Iraq." The cleric, known for his trademark fiery statements, was also asked about his reaction to the UN position, in which he ruled out
resorting to any violent means. "There is no reaction for the time being, but if there is any, it will be through peaceful activities, such as demonstrations and sit-ins," he said.
Moqtada al-Sadr stressed that he opposed any violent measures since `these types of actions harm Islam and Shiism`.
The cleric denounced `bandits, saboteurs and individuals who
participate in terrorist operations in Iraq`. "Those who commit such acts are the enemies of truth -- wherever or whenever they are -- and they do not want security and stability to
be reestablished in Iraq."
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An influential Shiite cleric in Iraq called Israel's targeted killing of the spiritual leader of Hamas a "dirty crime against Islam" and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, "a miracle from God."
March 29, 2004
Followers of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr flocked to the offices of his newspaper on Sunday after US-led occupation forces shut down the daily, accusing it of inciting "violence".
They were responding to a call for an open-ended sit-in outside al-Hawza al-Natiqa buildings on al-Hurriyah square in southern Baghdad to protest against the action on the daily.
"No to occupation," shouted the crowd, as dozens of unarmed al-Sadr supporters, wearing black and deployed to maintain security, watched a group burn a US flag.
April 2nd 2004
KUFA, Iraq (AP)--A radical Shiite Muslim cleric has expressed solidarity with the militant Palestinian group Hamas and said that he should be considered the group's "striking arm" in Iraq.
"I have said and I repeat my expression of solidarity, which Hassan Nasrallah called for, to stand with Hamas," Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said Friday in a reference to the leader of the militant Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.
Last month, Nasrallah announced that his party would close ranks with Hamas.
"Let (Hamas) consider me their striking arm in Iraq because the fate of Iraq and Palestine is the same," al-Sadr said during a Friday prayer sermon in Kufa, his home base south of Baghdad. He didn't elaborate on what he meant by the phrase.
The announcement followed Israel's assassination of Hamas' spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin last month.
"We promise the Palestinians and all the oppressed that we will fight and defeat all the oppressors. Let everyone know that anyone who attacks one of our symbols, like Sheik Ahmed Yassin, can attack followers of the Shiite belief," al-Sadr said.
Al-Sadr, who lives in the southern city of Najaf, has been an outspoken critic of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, but hasn't called for attacking the occupying forces.
Last month, the U.S.-led coalition shutdown a newspaper considered to be his mouthpiece, saying it was inciting violence against coalition troops.
At least 20,000 al-Sadr supporters held Friday prayers in front of the coalition's headquarters in Baghdad to protest the closure of the newspaper.
April 2nd 2004
A Shia militia group loyal to radical cleric Muqtada Sadr has wiped out a village in central Iraq which refused to adhere to its puritanical creed, killing some inhabitants and forcing the rest to flee.
Hundreds of militiamen from the Mahdi's Army group besieged the town of Kawlia, 10km south of the city of Diwaniya, with mortars and smashed walls with sledgehammers three weeks ago, reducing to rubble the entire village famed for its dancers and prostitutes since the 1920s.
The town's destruction has raised fears that the militia, which operates under the command of Mr Sadr, and is active in Baghdad and eight southern provinces, is not just operating above the law, but defining it. Mr Shubari says his Diwaniya office operates its own Sharia (Islamic law) courts, and uses its Sharia police to apply Islamic punishments.
Militiamen say their Diwaniya brigade alone has between 800 and 1,000 men under arms. Diwaniya residents speak of a reign of terror, and say masked militiamen with Kalashnikovs are staging processions.
Hamid Alwan's back is still black with the marks of 80 lashes struck by a cleric for smelling of gin.
Mr Shubari confirmed that his office was punishing people who drank alcohol with 80 lashes.
The Spanish-led multinational force, assigned to provide security in the area, says it has made one raid on the Sharia court, after receiving orders from its military command, but is reluctant to intervene. "The problem is not the Mahdi's Army, the problem is the terrorists. It's the terrorists who make dangers for the coalition," says Major Carlos Herradon.
A local police chief says the Army is "a good force", whose Sharia courts are supreme. Journalists in the city have also been advised to respect "the sensitivity" of the news, and refrain from reporting.
In recent weeks, coalition officials say they have demolished Mr Sadr's Sharia court run from a basement in the nearby holy city of Najaf, and padlocked the main offices of Mr Sadr's newspaper in Baghdad. The occupation authorities have also reissued orders to disband the Mahdi's Army and other militias.
But analysts fear the measures will serve to provoke Shia grassroots activists into open confrontation with the occupation authorities that the coalition has so far managed to avoid. "We prefer to die rather than see the Mahdi's Army dissolved," says Mr Shubari. "Either martyrdom or victory, there is no other way." Ahead of a large Shia procession next week, black flags are draped from many Shia shrines in southern Iraq instructing followers to face the sword rather than surrender to an Islamic state.