View Full Version : Muqtada al-Sadr: Spoiler or Stabilizer?

07-12-2006, 12:34 AM
ICG, 11 Jul 06: Iraq's Muqtada al-Sadr: Spoiler or Stabilizer? (http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/middle_east___north_africa/iraq_iran_gulf/55_iraq_s_muqtada_al_sadr_spoiler_or_stabiliser.pd f)

With stepped-up U.S.-led raids against Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia, Jaysh al-Mahdi, and media allegations of the militia’s responsibility for widespread and particularly horrendous sectarian killings in Baghdad on 9 July, the Shiite leader and his movement have become more central than ever. The war in Iraq radically reshuffled the country’s political deck, bringing to the fore new actors and social forces, none more surprising and enigmatic, and few as critical to Iraq’s stability, as Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sadrist movement he embodies. Largely unknown prior to the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime and bereft of resources Shiites typically must possess to assert their authority, Muqtada al-Sadr at first was dismissed as a marginal rabble-rouser, excluded from the political process and, after he flexed his muscles, decreed wanted “dead or alive” by the U.S.-led coalition. Learning the hard way, the U.S. and its allies have had to recognise the reality of the Sadrists’ strength.

Today, the Sadrists play a central part in government and parliament. The young imam enjoys a cult-like following among Shiite masses. How his forces act will be vital to the country’s future. The Sadrist movement has deep roots, and its demands reflect many justified grievances. The key is to ensure that Muqtada helps bring the Sadrists and their social base fully into the political process. For that, he will have to be treated as a legitimate, representative actor and act as one...

SSG Rock
07-12-2006, 01:55 PM
Money, power and political influence seem to be the key to stabilizing Iraq. What are the Shia and Sunni fighting about when you really boil it down? Political influence and power. If we can find a way to make every major group empowered in some fashion I think we can get this thing wrapped up.

Tom Odom
07-12-2006, 02:45 PM

Your comment that it is all about money and power is oversimplfied. The core of the dispute remains religious and its symptoms play out in who has money and power. Empowering one or all the groups does not obviate the religious schism; it may ease friction or it may encourage further competition. In any case, the core dispute will remain as it has for centuries.


SSG Rock
07-12-2006, 06:56 PM
Oversimplified? Of course, maybe I should have said that perhaps easing the friction is the best we can hope for? Afterall, we will never have an impact on religious beliefs, so we have to leverage what we can. What is the alternative, to ensuring that all groups feel empowered? Carving up the country is the only thing I can think of and I don't think the administration wants to go there.

Tom Odom
07-12-2006, 08:11 PM

That is the central "gut nut" of the situation, one so assessed in 1990 in the run up to Desert Storm, and one still intact in 2006. That sounds simplistic on my part I know but there it is and there it was...


Steve Blair
07-13-2006, 02:31 PM

That is the central "gut nut" of the situation, one so assessed in 1990 in the run up to Desert Storm, and one still intact in 2006. That sounds simplistic on my part I know but there it is and there it was...


And there it's always been. It may be simplistic, but sometimes things are that way when you strip away the layers.

03-29-2007, 08:37 AM
29 Washington Post - For Sadr, a Fracturing Militia (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/28/AR2007032802173.html) by Ann Scott Tyson and Robin Wright.

Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia is increasingly splintering as radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- now believed to be in Iran -- faces fresh challenges to his leadership, according to senior Pentagon and administration officials.

In the near term, the deepening divides in Sadr's movement have contributed to a lull in fighting that is benefiting U.S. and Iraqi operations to secure Baghdad, where Shiite militia and death squads fomenting sectarian violence are considered the greatest threat to Iraq's stability, the officials said

Yet the group's fracturing in the long run could make it harder to defeat militarily and could also complicate political reconciliation, they said...

At least two Shiite rivals, with some internal support, have been jockeying to take over parts of Sadr's powerful Mahdi Army since he left for Iran earlier this year, officials say. Sadr has had trouble both leading and controlling his movement from afar, they said, as his absence has encouraged subordinates and earlier rivals to move in on his turf...

04-08-2007, 03:18 PM
Iraqi cleric seeks to push out U.S.
By SAAD ABDUL KADIR, Associated Press Writer

The renegade cleric Muqtada al-Sadr urged the Iraqi army and police to stop cooperating with the United States and told his guerrilla fighters to concentrate on pushing American forces out of the country, according to a statement issued Sunday.

The statement, stamped with al-Sadr's official seal, was distributed in the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Sunday — a day before a large demonstration there, called for by al-Sadr, to mark the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

"You, the Iraqi army and police forces, don't walk alongside the occupiers, because they are your archenemy," the statement said. Its authenticity could not be verified.

In the statement, al-Sadr — who commands an enormous following among
Iraq's majority Shiites and has close allies in the Shiite-dominated government — also encouraged his followers to attack only American forces, not fellow Iraqis.

"God has ordered you to be patient in front of your enemy, and unify your efforts against them — not against the sons of Iraq," the statement said, in an apparent reference to clashes between al-Sadr's Mahdi Army fighters and Iraqi troops in Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad. "You have to protect and build Iraq."



04-08-2007, 05:31 PM
Has he done this before? Also, I'm don't know what is going on with this guy lately. He must of lost some power. I don't know.

04-08-2007, 06:50 PM
He's not getting much credit with Newsweek and the lastest I could find on the Middle East Forum was dated Fall, 2004.

By Jeffrey Bartholet

Dec. 4, 2006 issue - One way to understand Moqtada al-Sadr is to think of him as a young Mafia don. He aims for respectability, and is willing to kill for it. Yet the extent of his power isn't obvious to the untrained eye. He has no standing army or police force, and the Mahdi Army gunmen he employs have no tanks or aircraft. You could mistake him—at your peril—for a common thug or gang leader. And if he or his people were to kill you for your ignorance, he wouldn't claim credit. But the message would be clear to those who understand the brutal language of the Iraqi Street.

CNN covers the same story, but a different twist for this Monday, 09 APR 07.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is calling for an anti-American protest in the Iraqi city of Najaf on April 9, the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

U.S. and Iraqi officials don't know al-Sadr's whereabouts. They have said he fled to Iran after recent military operations in Baghdad, but his supporters insist he remains in Iraq.

04-08-2007, 10:11 PM
1700 8 April Washington Post update - Sadr Accuses U.S. of Dividing Iraq Through Violence (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/08/AR2007040800183.html?hpid=topnews) by Sudarsan Raghavan.

Calling America "the great evil," radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Sunday accused the United States of dividing Iraq through stoking violence, and he urged his Mahdi Army militiamen and Iraq's security forces to stop fighting each other in Diwaniyah, where clashes erupted over the weekend.

But the influential Shiite Muslim cleric stopped short of calling upon his fighters to rise up and battle U.S. troops, a move that would severely complicate an ongoing security offensive to pacify the capital and other parts of Iraq. Instead, Sadr ordered his followers to remain united and to go out and "demonstrate" in order to "end the occupation."

The call came on a bloody Easter Sunday for U.S. forces in Iraq, with the U.S. military announcing the deaths of 10 soldiers. Four soldiers were killed and one was wounded Saturday by an explosion near their vehicle in Diyala province north of Baghdad, and six died Sunday as a result of four separate attacks north and south of the capital, the military said...

Sadr's statement appeared to be aimed at stopping fighting in the southern city of Diwaniyah between his militia and Iraqi government security forces. In a three-day-old joint operation dubbed "Black Eagle," U.S. and Iraqi army forces have been battling the Mahdi Army for control of Diwaniyah. So far, nearly 40 militia members have been captured and several others killed in firefights, the U.S. military said in a statement Sunday...

04-18-2007, 09:33 AM
Good article (http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0418/p06s01-woiq.html)summarizing recent fragmentation in the ruling Shia UIA coalition, as the Sadrists withdraw from the Cabinet and battle rages in Diwaniyah.

Monday's departure of six government cabinet ministers from the Iraqi government will indeed erode support for American-backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The ministers represented radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, on whom Mr. Maliki relied to take the top government post in Iraq.

But the withdrawal of the Sadrists – who left in protest over the prime minister's refusal to set a date for the departure of US troops – highlights more troubling developments: widening fissures within the country's ruling coalition and a brewing Shiite fight for supremacy that threatens to unravel the leading political coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA).


The stakes are immense. The political battle is about control. Each Shiite party wants power in Baghdad, the so-called mid-Euphrates provinces, Najaf and Karbala, which are home to Shiite Islam's holiest sites, and the southern province Basra with its vital oil resources and maritime facilities.

"The only thing that [the parties] agree on is remaining in power and confronting one another. There is a negative meeting point, and that's not enough to build a government," says Mr. Dawod.

More than two years since their ascent to the helm for the first time in Iraq's modern history, Shiites have proven that the UIA is little more than a pragmatic marriage of convenience. So far, they have failed to transcend differences and reach out to the country's other communities, mainly the embattled Sunni Arabs.

"There is a great failure by the government," says Dawod. "And unfortunately, because of the situation in Iraq now, this failure does not lead to an alternative government coming to power but more chaos."


But beyond the political jostling, analysts say, the ultimate fate of the Maliki government may depend on the outcome of the fight for power unfolding on the ground. "There is a real war going on between Shiites in Basra, Diwaniyah, Karbala, and Najaf, and it's a mess," says Jabar.

He says Sadr's move Monday, as well as recent demonstrations, was simply a reaction to moves to dismantle his military capabilities, an effort being pursued cautiously by US forces, with the backing of Sadr's nemesis Hakim, who controls his own paramilitary group, the Badr Brigades.

In fact, several sources confirm now that a national police unit loyal to Badr was drafted from the city of Hilla into the deadly battles in Diwaniyah earlier this month between elements of Sadr's Mahdi Army and US and Iraqi forces.

Elsewhere, Shiite violence has erupted in even more unpredictable ways. The Interior Ministry said over the weekend that a bombing Saturday at a bus station in Karbala near sacred shrines that killed at least 50 people was the work of "renegade local elements and the Warriors of Heaven cult."

The government had accused fighters from the same cult of cooperating with Al Qaeda in January to unleash havoc in Najaf to fulfill a messianic vision. This prompted a fight between alleged members of this cult and US and Iraqi troops.

While the story of the cult may be plausible, Dawod says it may have been a theory promoted by the government to mask a bitter local fight.

05-07-2007, 10:02 PM
Around the Kazimiyah shrine in Baghdad (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070507/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq_baghdad_shrine;_ylt=AtSelIK8abFpWoDgkbD.1ezMW M0F).

The mosque of Imam Kadhim, the most revered Shiite shrine in Baghdad, is a tempting target for Sunni insurgents. To protect it, Iraqi and U.S. troops rely on the Mahdi Army, the same Shiite militia that Washington considers a threat to Iraq's stability.

That cuts to the heart of a dilemma for the U.S. military three months into the campaign to pacify Baghdad: whether to risk fierce battles by confronting Shiite militiamen blamed for massacring Sunnis or to deal with "moderates" in the Mahdi Army — which the U.S. believes receives weapons and training from Iran.


Without the militia, U.S. and Iraqi officers acknowledge that the 2,000 Iraqi security forces and 500 American soldiers based in the area would be hard-pressed to protect the neighborhood's 120,000 residents and the shrine, which houses the tombs of two 8th century Shiite imams.

By leaving the Mahdi security network in place around the shrine, U.S. commanders do not need to divert resources from other parts of the city where security is worse.

"There are a lot of people affiliated with JAM, and if we made them all enemies, we'd be in trouble," said Lt. Col. Steve Miska, 39, of Greenport, N.Y., who commands U.S. troops in northwest Baghdad.

"So we try to sort out who's extremist JAM and can't be reasoned with because of their ideology, and who we can live with as long as they're not killing U.S. and Iraqi soldiers or civilians."

Miska's efforts suffered a setback last week when Iraq's parliament passed legislation banning U.S. troops from within two-thirds of a mile of the shrine.

The measure, proposed by al-Sadr's representatives in parliament, was seen as largely symbolic and was approved the day after a gunbattle between U.S. troops and Mahdi fighters.

During the two-hour fight, some Iraqi soldiers fought alongside Mahdi Army gunmen, according to the Iraqi officer in charge of security in the area.

He spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his life. But his account was corroborated by U.S. officials, who said some Iraqi soldiers took off their uniforms and tossed weapons to militiamen.

U.S. and Iraqi commanders hope that once tempers ease, the law will be changed or ignored.

In the meantime, both American and Iraqi officials must deal with reality: the militia is so deeply entrenched in Kazimiyah and other Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad that it can be effective in maintaining security.


In March 2004, three suicide bombers attacked Kazimiyah shrine during a Shiite religious festival, killing 58 people and wounding 200. After that, Shiite militiamen stepped up their presence around the shrine.

"If you look at al-Qaida and what they're capable of doing, I don't think it's paranoia here," said Miska. "They (the Mahdi Army) are trying to take prudent measures to protect an extremely sensitive religious site."

Those measures involve inundating the streets around the shrine — a tightly woven web of mostly pedestrian thoroughfares — with mostly young men in their teens and early 20s who dress in civilian clothes and loiter on street corners.

Armed with cell phones, they become the eyes and ears of the Mahdi Army.


Across Baghdad, the Mahdi Army has laid low in the past three months, as part of what is believed to be an informal deal with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown.

But in Kazimiyah, the number of fighters has spiked in recent months, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

With the approval of the Sunni-run Defense Ministry, the reinforcements include more than 300 men dispatched by Bahaa al-Araji, a member of al-Sadr's bloc in parliament. The Iraqi government is still in the process of issuing them weapons, but the entire force is believed to have come from the Mahdi Army.

"You're looking at JAM with political cover all the way to the top here," Miska said.


Even so, Miska said, "right now we just don't have a better alternative."

That's just fine for many residents of Kazimiyah, who say they have little confidence in Iraqi soldiers and police, even though they are mostly fellow Shiites. Instead, residents believe the militia offers the best protection.

"I can go to and from my house late at night and I feel safe because JAM is in my neighborhood," said Ziad Tariq al-Bendawi, 32. "I might not like what some of them do to Sunnis or others who betray them. But for me, they protect my family. That is my concern."

06-05-2007, 01:01 PM
An Enemy We Can Work With (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/opinion/03bull.html?_r=2&pagewanted=print)- NYTIMES op-ed by Bartle Breese Bull (love the name).

WHEN the populist Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr emerged from 14 weeks of invisibility on May 25, it was hard not to focus on his typically passionate anti-Coalition rhetoric: “No, no to America; no, no to occupation,” he thundered from the mosque at Kufa, Iraq, a ragged town a few miles north of rich holy city of Najaf.

It reminded me of my first visit to the Kufa mosque, in August 2004. I had just walked and driven up from Najaf, where Mr. Sadr’s second great uprising against Coalition troops was in its dying stages after more than three weeks. I was the only visible foreigner in the mosque for an unusually packed and angry Friday prayers.

The mosque, which Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army was using as a hospital of sorts, had just been hit by something that everyone said was an American rocket. The shoes of dead fighters lay in piles inside the entrance. Outside, thick, angry crowds milled around.

That was almost three years ago. Mr. Sadr’s re-emergence — American officials say he had been hiding in Iran, while his followers say he was lying low around Najaf — in such a suggestive place was undoubtedly meant to be a reminder of the young cleric’s disruptive potential. But I think the real lesson about Mr. Sadr’s return is subtler, and far more positive ...

06-20-2007, 08:41 PM
The Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Focus, 19 Jun 07:

Moqtada al-Sadr Stepping into the Power Vacuum (http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/article.php?articleid=2373480)

...Al-Sadr has much to gain from the current situation. First and foremost, the Iraqi government is arguably at its weakest, especially because the U.S. troop surge has made Iraqi forces more dependent on the United States and less reliable as an independent military entity in the face of a stubborn Sunni insurgency. Second, al-Sadr's political rival, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), is undergoing treatment for lung cancer in Iran. Al-Hakim's absence has allowed al-Sadr to fill a political vacuum that positions him as an unrivaled Shiite leader—except in relation to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Third, with a substantial Sunni Iraqi opposition to the government, which is growing as the Shiite-led Nuri al-Maliki government continues to weaken, al-Sadr has found a new constituency that shares his political objectives. This constituency intends to attain the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the establishment of an Islamic state led, or supervised, by clerics and religious institutions. This situation has created a new dynamic that has enabled the young al-Sadr to reenter Iraqi politics as both a reliable alternative to the country's government and a force behind the building of national unity—he seeks the support of the highly disgruntled Sunni Iraqi factions, especially the tribal orders of Anbar province who are highly suspicious of al-Hakim's model of federalism.

Al-Sadr's most recent tactic is to reshape himself as a true Iraqi nationalist. He is now operating on both political and military levels, which reflects his long-term strategic vision for consolidating power, especially in non-Shiite regions....

08-22-2007, 11:16 AM
Shiite militia expands grip in Baghdad (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/n/a/2007/08/18/international/i115513D44.DTL&type=printable)- AP, 18 Aug.

The street market bustles in the early mornings and late afternoons as shoppers come out to buy fruit, bread, clothes and toys. Late into the hot summer nights, whole families gather to eat grilled kebabs at tiny stalls, their small children shrieking as they play tag.

The Hurriyah neighborhood of northwest Baghdad, gripped by a spasm of deadly ethnic violence a year ago, has grown markedly calmer over the past eight months. It is now the kind of area that both U.S. and Iraqi officials point to when they cite progress at stabilizing Baghdad.

But only Shiites are welcome — or safe — in Hurriyah these days. And neither Iraq's government nor U.S. or Iraqi security forces are truly in control.

Instead, the Mahdi Army militia runs this area as it does others across Baghdad — manning checkpoints, collecting rental fees for apartments, licensing bus drivers, mediating family fights and even handing out gas for cooking ...