April 9, 2004 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 170

Muqtada Al-Sadr Not Supported by Other Iraqi Leaders

April 9, 2004 | By Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli*
Iraq | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 170

Although the closing for two months by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) of his weekly, Al-Hawza,triggered violent demonstrations by Muqtada Al-Sadr's [1] supporters, particularly his armed militia known as the Mehdi Brigades, it is by no means the primary reason for the recent violence. Al-Sadr has been angry and frustrated for some time at being kept outside the Iraqi Governing Council. Not unlike the Iranian Ayatollahs who prepared him as a cleric, Al-Sadr is interested, first and foremost, in achieving an Islamic state in Iraq, and he will not avoid confrontation if it enables him to achieve his ultimate objective. While his influence among the Iraqi Shi'a Muslims may not be as powerful as that of the most senior Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, his propensity for mischief can not be ignored. However, Al-Sadr is not supported by other Iraqi Shi'a leaders.

Al-Sadr's Strained Relations with Ayatollah Al-Sistani

For now at least, Al-Sadr seems to have been isolated by the Iraqi Shi'a leadership, in particular by Ayatollah Al-Sistani and by some Shi'a members of the Iraqi Governing Council. Al-Sistani has many outstanding issues with Al-Sadr:

  1. Al-Sadr's attempt at the end of last year to grab by force the revenues of Al-Hawza which are derived from religious pilgrims who visit the Shi'a holy sites in Najaf and Karbala.
  2. The assassination, upon his return from England, of the moderate Shi'a cleric Abd Al-Majid Al-Khoei in a mosque in Najaf. Al-Khohei was the son of Grand Ayatollah Abu Al-Qassem Al-Khoei who was Al-Sistani's mentor. It is this assassination which prompted an Iraqi court to issue an order for Al-Sadr's arrest and his seeking refuge in a mosque.
  3. Al-Sistani has so far rejected appeals to issue a fatwa (religious edict) against the occupation forces. Al-Sadr's activities are anathema to Al-Sistani. Following the violence initiated by Al-Sadr, Al-Sistani went as far as issuing a statement calling on the demonstrators to exercise self-control and not to strike back if they were struck by the coalition forces. [2]
By his own admission, Al-Sadr, who is young and considered as mujtahid, roughly the equivalent of graduate student, has failed, despite many attempts, to obtain an interview with Al-Sistani.
Criticism of Al-Sadr by the Governing Council

The Iraqi Governing Council condemned Al-Sadr's behavior as "inappropriate" and accused him of "ingnorance, backwardness, and dictatorship." [3]

Criticism of Al-Sadr in the Iraqi Press

While most of the Iraqi press editorialized against the temporary closure of Al-Sadr's weekly, Al-Hawza, as an undemocratic act, they have, nevertheless, called upon him to exercise caution and restraint. The daily Al-Mashriq wrote that Al-Sadr "could achieve many of his demands without resorting to the use of the gun and without losing more lives." The paper said "there are many ways to force the occupiers to recognize the rights of the people and to listen to its voice. It starts with a dialogue and ends with a gun. Change cannot be completed by hand unless the tongue has tired." [4]

In an editorial "Who Benefits from the New Violence in Iraq," the daily Baghdad, calls on all Iraqis "to exercise patience and wisdom in dealing with the situation to spare the country of a new wave of violence that benefits no one except the enemies of the country." [5]

Nidhal Al-Leithi, a columnist in the Iraqi daily Al-Zaman (published simultaneously in London and Baghdad), denounces those who seek refuge in tombs and the houses of Allah which is what Al-Sadr and his followers have done, knowing that the coalition forces would not pursue them in one of the holiest mosques of the Shi'a Muslims. He wrote that "the mosques, the houses of Allah and the holy tombs are places for worship only and not for refuge of politicians [seeking] to protect themselves, even if they were clerics." [6]

In another column in the same daily, Abd Al-Mun'im Al-A'ssam wrote that by allowing Al-Sadr to rule Al-Sadr City and to establish courts and prisons, the CPA has turned Al-Sadr into a problem. [7]

* Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst at MEMRI.

[1] In MEMRI's "Inquiry and Analysis" series, a biographical dispatch was issued on Moqtada Al-Sadr describing him as a "young rebel." Not unexpectedly, Al-Sadr is currently being sought by the Coalition Provisional Authority for murder and for inciting for violence. MEMRI Moqtada Al-Sadr: The Young Rebel of the Iraqi Shi'a Muslims – Iraqi Leadership Biographical Series, February 11, 2004, "Moqtada Al-Sadr: the Young Rebel of the Iraqi Shi'a Muslims."

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 4, 2004.

[3] Al-Zaman (Iraq), April 7, 2004.

[4] Al-Mashriq (Iraq) April 5, 2004.

[5] Baghdad (Iraq), April 6, 2004.

[6] Al-Zaman (Iraq), April 7, 2004.

[7] Al-Zaman (Iraq), April 6, 2004.

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