[Marxism] Planet of Slums-Iraq

Jon Flanders jonathan.flanders at verizon.net
Thu Apr 8 07:26:21 MDT 2004

Army of the dispossessed rallies to Mahdi

Ewen MacAskill
Thursday April 8, 2004
The Guardian

The black-garbed Mahdi Army leading the uprising is drawn from a large
and volatile pool: the slums of Baghdad. "This is the army of the
dispossessed," said one observer, Joost Hiltermann. 

Outside the militia group, no one knows how big it is; estimates vary
from 3,000 to 10,000. But it has been growing fast. They are the poorest
of the poor, the Shia who feel that, a year after the fall of Saddam
Hussein, there is little for them in the settlement agreed between the
US and the provisional government. "It's a class thing, not just an
ethnic and religious divide," said Mr Hiltermann, director of the
International Crisis Group, a thinktank based in Amman which has been
studying the militias. 

The Mahdi Army was born in the war's aftermath. With no one in charge,
Shia clerics organised food and essentials from the mosques of Sadr
City, the slum in Baghdad that is home to two million Shia. 

Security was just as important, and the clerics sent out gunmen to
protect Sadr City. One of the most popular clerics was Moqtada al-Sadr -
young, radical, and anti-American, whose father had been killed in 1999
by Saddam. 

Last June Mr Sadr brought these irregulars together as the Mahdi Army.
Mahdi is Arabic for "the promised one" or "divinely guided one", and for
Shias, much more so than for Sunnis, is a figure equivalent to Christ's
return on Judgment Day. One Islamic tradition speaks of fighters
arriving from the east bearing black flags to slaughter unbelievers,
when the Mahdi would appear. Various figures down the centuries claimed
to be the Mahdi, the one familiar in Britain being the Sudanese leader
who killed General Gordon. "The Mahdi resonates powerfully among Shia.
It is hard to find a more powerful symbol of their suffering," Mr
Hiltermann said. 

The Mahdi Army is less well organised than other militias, such as the
Kurdish peshmerga and the Shia Badr organisation, but most of its
members have had military training in the old Iraqi army. 

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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