[Marxism] Sadr gains popularity, power across Iraq among Shia

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Nov 27 18:20:47 MST 2005

The comments by Professor Mark Jensen do a good job of highlighting key
quotations, including those which show the resistance among Iraqis,
which may well be growing, to the divide-and-rule policy of the
imperialists and their allies (as well as among some forces in the
resistance) which sets Sunni against Shia on religious or political
Jensen remains definitely one of the better observers from afar of
developments in Iraq.
Fred Feldman

BACKGROUND: Moqtada al-Sadr's star continues to rise 

[In the context of the upcoming Dec. 15 elections in Iraq, Moqtada
al-Sadr's increased standing in Iraqi political life is apparent, the
*New York Times* reported Sunday.[1]  --  Back in August 2004, a UFPPC
{United for Peace of Pierce County, Oregon}statement
(http://www.ufppc.org/content/view/1200/) said that "Many times in
recent weeks, the government of Iyad Allawi has vowed that negotiations
with [Moqtada] al-Sadr were over and his Mahdi Army would be crushed.
Soon, perhaps, the government of Iyad Allawi may go the way of the
Coalition Provisional Authority that created it, and Moqtada al-Sadr may
still be there, an authentic voice of the national self-determination to
which the United States pays lip service but will not accept."  

--  In August 2005, we commented:
(http://www.ufppc.org/content/view/3334/)  "It may turn out that Moqtada
al-Sadr is the only person capable of holding Iraq together as a
nation."  --  A piece in Sunday's *New York Times* confirms us in those
sentiments.  --  Although in April 2004 American commanders vowed to
"capture or kill" al-Sadr, now American officials are "hailing his entry
into the elections as the best sign yet that the political process can
co-opt insurgents."  --  (We doubt whether Moqtada al-Sadr can be
"co-opted," though.)  -- 

 In Sunday's piece, Edward Wong emphasizes the increasing role that
al-Sadr's Mahdi Army is playing in the civil war in Iraq; Edward Wong
begins and ends his piece by discussing a battle on Oct. 27 waged by
Mahdi Army militiamen against "a Sunni Arab kidnapping ring in the
farming area called Nahrawan, east of Baghdad" in which al-Sadr's men
were victorious.  -- An AP piece on the heightened political activity in
anticipation of the Dec. 
15 legislative elections emphasized that an apparently greater
willingness to participate in political activity does not mean that
Iraqis are feeling any less anti-American at present.[2]  -- 

 Said sheik Murad al-Oujaili, a Sunni from the Sunni-dominated area
south of Baghdad known as "the Triangle of Death" because of its
propensity for violence against Shiites who travel through it:  "'I
think it will be good for Iraq and for everyone to take part in the
December election.' . . . The new interest in politics, however, has not
been matched by a change of heart about the United States," Hamza
Hendawi observed.  

"Iraqis here and elsewhere blame the Americans for the country's
problems including Shiite-Sunni tensions, fuel shortages, and power
outages. 'I still remember my fifth-grade lesson about the colonialist
policy of divide and rule,' al-Oujaili said in his sermon, suggesting
that the Americans want to push Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites apart."





New York Times November 27, 2005 


jpg) CAPTION: A poster of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr on display
during Friday Prayer recently in Sadr City, a Baghdad slum named for his
father, Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr.] 

BAGHDAD -- Men loyal to Moktada al-Sadr piled out of their cars at a
plantation near Baghdad on a recent morning, bristling with Kalashnikov
rifles and eager to exact vengeance on the Sunni Arab fighters who had
butchered one of their Shiite militia brothers. 

When the smoke cleared after the fight, at least 21 bodies lay scattered
among the weeds, making it the deadliest militia battle in months.  The
black-clad Shiites swaggered away, boasting about the carnage. 

Even as that battle raged on Oct. 27, Mr. Sadr's aides in Baghdad were
quietly closing a deal that would signal his official debut as a
kingmaker in Iraqi politics, placing his handpicked candidates on the
same slate -- and on equal footing -- with the Shiite governing parties
in the December parliamentary elections.  The country's rulers had come
courting him, and he had forced them to meet his terms. 

Wielding violence and political popularity as tools of his authority,
Mr. Sadr, the Shiite cleric who has defied the American authorities here
since the fall of Saddam Hussein, is cementing his role as one of Iraq's
most powerful figures. 

Just a year after Mr. Sadr led two fierce uprisings, the Americans are
hailing his entry into the elections as the best sign yet that the
political process can co-opt insurgents. 

But his ascent could portend a darker chain of events, for he continues
to embrace his image as an unrepentant guerrilla leader even as he takes
the reins of political power. 

Mr. Sadr has made no move to disband his militia, the thousands-strong
Mahdi Army.  In recent weeks, factions of the militia have brazenly
assaulted and abducted Sunni Arabs, rival Shiite groups, journalists,
and British-led forces in the south, where Mr. Sadr has a zealous
following.  At least 19 foreign soldiers and security contractors have
been killed there since late summer, mostly by roadside bombs planted by
Shiite militiamen who use Iranian technology, British officers say.  The
latest killing took place Nov. 20 near Basra. 

"The fatality rate is quite high, much higher than it was a year ago,"
Maj. Gen. J. B. Dutton, the British commander in southern Iraq, said in
a briefing to reporters. 

Members of the Mahdi Army have also joined the police in large numbers,
while retaining their loyalty to Mr. Sadr.  Squad cars in Baghdad and
southern cities cruise openly with pictures of Mr. Sadr taped to the
windows.  On Nov. 
17, the American Embassy demanded that the Iraqi government prohibit
private armies from controlling the Iraqi security forces, after
American soldiers had found 169 malnourished prisoners, some of them
tortured, in a Baghdad police prison reportedly under the command of a
Shiite militia. 

Mr. Sadr's oratory is as anti-American and incendiary as it has ever
been.  A recent article in *Al Hawza*, a weekly Sadr publication that
the Americans tried unsuccessfully to close last year, carried the
headline:  "Bush Family: Your Nights Will Be Finished."  Another article
explained that Mr. Sadr was supporting the December elections to rid
Iraq of American-backed politicians who "rip off the heads of the
underprivileged and scatter the pieces of their children and elderly." 

Partly because of his uncompromising attitude, Mr. Sadr, who is in his
30's, is immensely popular among impoverished Shiites.  That has made
him the most coveted ally of the governing Shiite parties as they head
into the December elections.  Mr. Sadr used this leverage to get 30 of
his candidates on the Shiite coalition's slate, as many as the number
allotted to each of the two main governing parties, the Dawa Islamic
Party and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. 

Mr. Sadr's aides have already negotiated with those parties for
executive offices and ministry posts in the next government.  Bahaa
al-Aaraji, an influential Sadr loyalist who was secretary of the
constitutional committee, said in an interview that Mr. Sadr had urged
him to take an executive office after the elections. 

Early this month, the leader of the Supreme Council, Abdul Aziz
al-Hakim, went to the holy city of Najaf to visit Mr. Sadr in a gesture
of solidarity.  Mr. Hakim and Mr. Sadr are sons of deceased ayatollahs
whose families have feuded.  In August, the Mahdi Army stormed the
offices of the Supreme Council across southern Iraq.  Mr. Hakim's recent
visit showed how much the mainstream Shiite leaders needed the support
of Mr. Sadr, no matter how much they abhorred him. 

"They are the largest group in the Shiite community," said Hajim
al-Hassani, a secular Sunni Turkmen who is speaker of the transitional
National Assembly. "They will be a force to deal with in the elections.
If they run separately, they would get most of the seats in the south." 

Mr. Sadr is also trying to use the elections to elevate his stature as a
spiritual leader.  Though his political group has joined the Shiite
coalition, he has yet to endorse anyone.  That is apparently because he
wants to emulate the top ayatollahs in Iraq, collectively known as the
*marjaiyah*, who usually stay above day-to-day politics.  The most
revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has said he will
not back any single group in the elections. 

"Moktada doesn't support any list," said Sheik Abbas al-Rubaie, Mr.
Sadr's senior political aide.  "He has coordinated his opinion with that
of the 
*marjaiyah*.  They say they support everyone, but not any specific

Mr. Sadr's support for the elections, though, is a marked change from
last January, when he criticized the political process as a tool of the
occupiers. Followers of Mr. Sadr at the time ran for transitional
assembly seats, but not as official candidates of the Sadr movement.
They won about two dozen seats and later got control of three

A Western diplomat said the Sadrists exhibited political acumen once in
power.  They recently sponsored an assembly bill demanding a timetable
for the withdrawal of foreign troops.  The bill did not pass, but its
development "showed an evolving political maturity," said the diplomat,
who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid the appearance of foreign
interference in Iraqi politics. 

But greater Sadrist participation in governance has done little to curb
the activities of the Mahdi Army.  Iraqi and British officials have
suggested that Mr. Sadr's militia is tied to hundreds of policemen in
Basra who form a shadowy force called the Jameat, a group involved in
killings and torture. General Dutton, the British commander, said
Shiite-on-Shiite violence was continuing.  In addition, sophisticated
material from Iran for making bombs is going to "breakaway" militiamen,
he said. 

It is unclear how much command Mr. Sadr and his top aides have over some
factions of the militia. 

"I think the Sadrists are a social movement, not really so much an
organization," said Juan Cole, a specialist on Shiite Islam at the
University of Michigan.  "So you have these neighborhood-based youth
gangs masquerading as an 'army.'  Then you have the mosque preachers
loyal to Moktada who try to swing their congregations, and who interface
with the youth gangs." 

On Nov. 12, after a car bomb killed 8 people and wounded at least 40
others in a Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, dozens of
gun-wielding Sadr loyalists sealed off the area, only occasionally
admitting Iraqi policemen.  A militiaman pulled up in a bulldozer to
clear the debris.  Others detained a man whom they accused of helping in
the attack.  They told a reporter they had gotten a confession out of
him, and then they shoved him into a sedan and drove away. 

Last month, militiamen near the Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad
abducted Rory Carroll, an Irish reporter for the *Guardian*.  Senior
Shiite officials said in interviews that the militiamen, acting without
Mr. Sadr's approval, wanted to trade Mr. Carroll for a Mahdi Army
commander imprisoned by the British in Basra.  The kidnappers eventually
released Mr. Carroll because of political pressure.  Sheik Rubaie, Mr.
Sadr's political aide, later said the Mahdi Army had nothing to do with
the abduction. 

Sadr officials are quite open, though, about the Mahdi Army's role in
the deadly battle on Oct. 27, when the militiamen assaulted a Sunni Arab
kidnapping ring in the farming area called Nahrawan, east of Baghdad.
The Sunnis had abducted and mutilated a Sadrist and left his body parts
strewn atop a car in a thicket of trees.  When the Mahdi Army went to
retrieve the body, the Sunnis opened fire with mortars, said Sheik Ghazi
Naji Gannas, a local Shiite leader. 

The militia retreated, then returned the next day with policemen for a
final showdown.  Sadr officials say the incident shows that the Mahdi
Army can play a positive role in helping to secure Iraq.  "We
coordinated with the government, and we acted with their
acknowledgment," Sheik Rubaie said. 

But Sheik Gannas said the Mahdi Army was also carrying out abductions in
the area.  The militia was as unruly and dangerous as the Sunni
extremists, he added, and nothing but trouble lay ahead if the Iraqi
government failed to rein it in. 

"Thank God," he said, "for this battle between the two sides." 

--Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi and Joao Silva contributed reporting for this


Iraq: The Aftermath 


Associated Press November 27, 2005 


MAHMOUDIYA, Iraq -- A day after 30 people died in a suicide bombing
here, the preacher at a major Sunni Arab mosque Friday condemned the
horrific attack and called for unity between Iraq's rival Muslim

Still, resentment of the country's Shiite political parties runs high in
this troubled town 20 miles south of Baghdad -- along with anti-American

"The targeting of innocent civilians yesterday cannot be accepted,"
sheik Murad al-Oujaili told the congregation at the 14th of Ramadan
mosque, relating how a witness told him of an infant ripped from his
mother's arm and hurled to his death by the force of the blast. 

In the attack, a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle at the entrance to
a hospital compound as American soldiers were there inspecting the
facility and handing out candy to children.  Four U.S. soldiers were
slightly wounded.  The dead included three women and two children. 

The bombing appeared part of the pattern of violence, including reprisal
attacks between Sunnis and Shiites, which has given this once quiet
farming area just south of Baghdad the nickname "Triangle of Death." 

"This thing about Shiites and Sunnis is new to us in Iraq," the sheik
told the worshippers, most of them bearded, robed men in their 20s and
30s.  "We are all Iraqis and we must stop blaming each other." 

His message suggests that many Sunni Arabs, the disaffected minority
that forms the backbone of the insurgency, may be growing weary of the
increasingly sectarian character of the violence. 

Banners condemning the suicide bombing appeared Friday in the main
outdoor market, and residents say many people now routinely report
suspicious individuals, cars and other objects to security forces. 

"These attacks are genocide against the Iraqi people.  They have nothing
to do with resistance," said Abdel-Ilah Nijm, a 28-year-old house

The Mahmoudiya area is home to some 300,000 people, slightly more than
half of them Sunni Arabs and the rest Shiites.  Early last year,
insurgents in the area began targeting Shiite residents as well as
pilgrims and politicians traveling to Shiite shrine cities to the south.

Many Shiites have fled the area to escape threats and intimidation by
Sunni militants.  Scores of people from both sects have been slain over
the past year in apparent reprisal killings. 

Apart from the violence, residents struggle with economic hardship --
due in large part to the chronic fuel and electricity shortages that
have made it difficult to run irrigation pumps in an area dependent on
farming for its livelihood. 

Residents say they will take part in the Dec. 15 national parliamentary
election, and posters advertising the different political movements
appear on the town's walls.  U.S. officials hope the election will
produce a parliament with greater Sunni representation to encourage the
minority community to turn its back on the insurgency. 

The Sunni boycott of the January elections gave power to majority
Shiites and Kurds. 

But some in Mahmoudiya fear the election could enflame sectarian
tensions and suppress the voices of reconciliation. 

Ibrahim Jassim Mohammed, an official of the Shiite movement led by
radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said their campaign workers operate
under cover of darkness when plastering posters on walls and visiting
voters in their homes. 

"I think it will be good for Iraq and for everyone to take part in the
December election," sheik al-Oujaili told the Associated Press after the
Friday prayers.  "But it's a choice that each one of us must make." 

The new interest in politics, however, has not been matched by a change
of heart about the United States.  Iraqis here and elsewhere blame the
Americans for the country's problems including Shiite-Sunni tensions,
fuel shortages and power outages. 

"I still remember my fifth grade lesson about the colonialist policy of
divide and rule," al-Oujaili said in his sermon, suggesting that the
Americans want to push Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites apart. 

Aref Taha, a father of four who said his wife was shot dead a year ago
by U.S. soldiers in unexplained circumstances, mused about the
forthcoming elections, the loss of his Shiite farm hands through
intimidation by Sunni militants and how he and his children cope with a
life of shortages, danger and personal loss. 

"These Shiite political parties, they are all Iranians," he said,
echoing an often repeated charge by Sunni Arabs that Shiite parties are
too close to the Iranians.  "The constitution they gave us will break up

His eldest son Zaid, 15, bears scars from the shooting in which his
mother died and bitterness for the soldiers he blames for her death. 

"I hated the Americans from the day they arrived in Iraq," he said.
"Now my hatred for them is intense."

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