Saturday, March 29, 2008

Understanding Muqtada

Image: "Spontaneous" Sadrist supporters in al-Kadhmiya, Baghdad, the sign reads: "The New Tyrant."

Image: "Sponatneous" pro-Maliki rally in Kerbala, which is largely controlled by Badr / ISCI
Image: here's one of countless "spontaneous" Saddam demonstrations by comparison, they used to force us to go to these ones all the time when we were in high school.

Anyone following the events in Basra (now all of Iraq) would be extremely baffled by the radically different coverage given to the incident by the various news outlets, TV stations and bloggers as everyone attempts to reconcile the event with his own perception and perspective of what is going on in Iraq. al-Sharqiya channel, a specialist in doom-and-gloom news coming from Iraq, says: "Tribes in the south are helping jaish el mahdi against the Iraqi army." The national state television, al-Iraqiya Channel is reporting this quite laughably: They don't mention the name of the "militia", support government as it should, but then they give ample time to the Sadrists and their spokesmen in a rather hazy and uncertain approach. al-Iraqiya Channel has a long tradition of supporting Muqtada and his folks, treating him with extreme honorifics. After Nuri al-Maliki failed to impose the blockade on Sadr City for more than one week, the Iraqiya (which I remind you, is the state-tv, not sadr-tv) took the streets of Sadr City to broadcast live the joyful celebrations of the residents, a particularly funny scene was when one of those "ordinary" citizens tried to hold his AK-47 up in the air, the cameraman immediately screamed: "put that down", no such coverage was given to Adhamiya after the 2006 battle there. The level of influence the Sadrists over even the state-owned television gives you an idea of how powerful the movement is.
So what is the truth? is it Doomsday and JAM is going to take over all of Iraq soon? is this a battle between two sectarian parties with little regard to building a powerful nation? or is it the effort of a determined genuine government to crush all unruly discord and dissent?
As I said in my previous post, the ISCI-Da'wa government has long followed a policy of Chamberlainian appeasement toward the powerful Muqtada al-Sadr and his movement, who has far more street cred than them, as I expected, this "moment of truth" isn't going to be any different, after Maliki gave them a 72-hour ultimatum, he extended it to 10-days, also tagged with the usual last-hope when you can't do much else, similar to what the Americans done with the insurgency, luring them with money. hardly the show of force you'd expect from a legitimate, confident Iraqi government against the "Iranian influence and criminal cartels?"
Hey look, the ultimatum is 12 days now, could this be any much more pathetic?
Har har, look.
Police are refusing to give in to Maliki's demands, forcing US planes to come to the rescue, further exposing the weakness of the central government in dealing with problems independently.

So why is this freely elected government acting as such a pussy against an admittedly rogue militia?
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PART I: Before 2003
In the beginning, the Shi'i religious movement revolved around one man, Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr (Qado's Uncle, also called the First Sadr), al-Sadr was the brains behind the formation of the first Shi'i religious reform party, the Islamic Call [Da'wa] in 1958, which was basically a Shi'i version of similar Sunni movements like the Muslim Brotherhood [1] , Baqir al-Sadr was an important theologian and philosopher, who sought to work Shi'i Islam into a modern system, his most important work "Our Economy" presents an Islamic economy model that is alternative to Capitalism and Marxism, it was adopted in Sunni Kuwait and allegedly forms the basis for Islamic Banking.
After Khomeini successfully installed his theocracy in Iran, he began calling for a similar one in Iraq, Baqir al-Sadr was his friend, some sources say that he disagreed with Khomeini's Vilayet-Faqih, in any case, he got basically nothing from Khomeini other than nominal support, Sadr had the charisma and appeal to become Iraq's Khomeini, but Saddam was not as weak and reluctant as Pahlavi was, distressed by the rise of theocracy, the Ba'ath Party waged war against religious Iran and crushed internal religious Shi'i movements, executing its figurehead, Sadr, in 1980. (Ironically, the Da'wa was viewed by the West at the time as a terrorist organization, this shows you how 'terrorist' can be applied loosely and how the terrorists of yesterday are the allies of today [2])
the remains of this movement fled abroad, to Syria and then to Iran. There, one of Sadr's disciples Hojjatol-Islam (not an Ayatollah at the time) Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, formed SCIRI, which espoused loyalty to Iranian visions of Pan-Shiism Vilayet-Faqih according to the understanding and centrality of Iran [3]. SCIRI's armed wing, the Badr Briagde, was formed out of Iraqi POWs, allegedly some joined under torture or intimidation. the Badr Briagde was an active part of the 1991 Uprising through its cells in Iraq.
After 1991, Saddam Hussein, always looking for some sort of legitimacy from religious Shi'i theocracy, forced the marj'a Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei, whom he favored over Sistani because the latter was Iranian and the former was of Turkish origins, to be present in television conferences, but that wasn't enough. So the Ba'ath tolerated and probably encouraged the rise of Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr (a cousin of Baqir Sadr, Muqtada's father, and commonly referred to as the Second Sadr), the Ba'ath sought to placate the Shia and to present him as an alternative to the aloof religious leadership in Najaf, led by Sistani after al-Khoei's death in 1992, the Ba'ath expected Sadr II to be less hostile to the regime, but apparently, that didn't materalize, Sadr II emerged as a voice of Shia within Iraq, reconnecting the Shia clergy, which usually abstained from meddling in politics too much, with the rural areas of southern Iraq, Sadr II the involvement of the clergy in politics further ; he held Friday prayers in Kufa, which, in Shi'i customs, can only be held in the presence of the Rightful Imam (Mahdi himself, or, under the Iranian Vilayet-Faqih, Madhi's deputy -Khomeini or Khamenei-), Sadr II built a network of civil services that replaced the neglect of the Ba'ath central government during the years of sanction, and he angrily lashed out against the USA and Israel, while also adopting an indirect confrontation with the Ba'ath, refusing to bestow legitimacy to its rule in exchange for religious freedom, all this was cut short when Sadr II was killed by unknown gunmen in 1999, probably ordered by Saddam Hussein who never tolerated any rising political power. [4]
the rise of Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr was received with hostility from SCIRI, the reasons for this are many: the Arab vs Persian dimension may have played a great part, as al-Sadr meant the rise of an Arab Iraqi Shi'i center whereas SCIRI was aligned with the Iranian vision of a central Shi'i authority mainfested by Vailety al-Fariq, whether this is true or whether Sadr was a Baathist method of splitting Shi'i ranks, al-Hakim repeatedly lashed out against him as a Ba'athist invention, a curse that today finds repeated mention in Iraqi forums, describing the Mahdi Army as nothing but ex-Fedayeen Neo-Baathi thugs. Saddam Hussein employed this hostility, blaming the assassination on Iran and its "agents", in the funeral held for Sadr II at Qom, Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim received a sound bashing by slippers and shoes in an infamous event now known as the "Battle of Adham Mosque"[5] , someone has to write a somewhat detailed account of the roots of this enmity, but what seems to have happened is that eventually, the rift between Sadrists and Badrists had already gone beyond repair by this time, with the Sadrists viewing al-Hakim and his accomplices as Iranian agents and an arrogant upper-class who has little care for the southern population at large, and who left Sadr II to die while opposing his activities. After Sadr II died, his movement went underground.

SOURCES:
[1] T. M. Aziz--The Role of Muhammed Baqir al-Sadr in Shii Political Activism in Iraq.
[2] Wikipedia, Dawa Party.
[3] Dhiyaa al-Shkarji, ex-Dawa member, "al-Maliki, Sadrists and ISCI revisited"
[4] Yitzhak Nakash - Reaching For Power: Shia in the Modern Arab World, 96-97.
[5] For a Sadrist account of this event (arabic).
Other details of the hostility between the families of Sadr and Hakim (arabic).

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Al-Hakim family and Al-Sadr family will destroy Iraq with thier feud . And WHY you fight for the money of Hawza while you are wasting the oil money by blewing up the oil pipes and and smuggling it!!!!!!!. An by the the way Al-Maliki sucks, We want Alawi back he will attack Sard, Badr and sunni insurgents all together.

And Abbas what about Sahwa, what are they doing now in Adhimiya. Are they laughing or waiting or prepareing to attack someone.

الإمام المهدي ظهر ويتبعه جيش جرار فلاقاه مقتدى الصدر وسأله المهدي من انت؟ فقال انا مقتدى الصدر.. سأله ومن خلفك؟ أجاب مقتدى: هذا جيش الإمام المهدي فقال المهدي لمقتدى: لعد منو هذوله الي ورايه رب الحلو قابل الصحوه

Anand said...

Abbas, the ISCI, (and lesser degree Fadheela Sadrists) smashed Al Sadr in local elections on 1.30.05.

Recent reporting suggests that the southern tribes and secular movements will benefit at the expense of Muqtada and ISCI in the 10.1.08 provincial elections.

Muqtada will likely lose seats in Baghdad.

ISCI/Fadheela will likely lose seats in Basrah.

However, in much of the upper south there is likely to be a backlash against ISCI and Muqtada. Fadheela and Dawa might benefit some. But relatively secular parties might benefit too.

Who do you recommend Iraqis vote for on 10.1.08? Who do you think wins the Iraqi elections?

Who blew up one of two oil pipelines in Southern Iraq? Do you think Muqtada ordered it, or was it the work of "rogue" JAM {possibly linked to the IRGC Kuds?}

annie said...

abbas, thank you very very much for this post. i can't tell you how much, as a westerner, i appreciate this step by step history lesson.

it is really hard to take sides in a conflict w/such bizarro leaders. so i won't. but i will say it seems clear the ptb don't seem interested in 'democracy'! for if they were they wouldn't support a weak central government wiping out the (masses)competition.

'your religious fanatics are bad and evil, and mine are legit'.

for anyone interested in diminishing the population, instigating a fight betwenn these 2 factions of iraqi politics and religion would seem like a no brainer.

either way, won't the women have to wear headscarves?

rhus said something on another site about people on these posts falling in love w/sadr. i am very curious who these posters are and wonder if they will show up here.

i am curious how many people saddam had to kill to keep the animosity of these factions from dominating the political landscape. if one side wins, you still end up w/crackpots running the show.

Who do you recommend Iraqis vote for on 10.1.08?

lol, i swear you crack me up anand

Gilgamish said...

Thank you Abbas for your research and nicely summed article.

" the Sadrists viewing al-Hakim and his accomplices as Iranian agents and an arrogant upper-class who has little care for the southern population at large, and who left Sadr II to die while opposing his activities. After Sadr II died, his movement went underground."

but aren't sadrists and badrist both use Iran as a haven/ally whenever the tied became tough on them, didn't muqtada al sadr had trips to Iran during his resignation periods or were these RUMOURS?

What amazes me , is that Iran is very smart in playing the two pretty well, though each sadrists and badrists stand for somewhat different face-values.

you touched something regarding classism in Iraq, I still remember some of the Al Hakim family member whom I have had the "privilge" to meet once upon a time , he actuallly used terms such thing as -mi3dan- or -shroog- something... I thought - later on in life- was a "ba3thi" invention lol

Also, ISCI reactionary comments of anything Arabic and the uae 3 islands.
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According to my uncle, Basrrawis in Shimal Al basra are already queuing for promised jobs by al Maliki, though my uncle showed sarcastic remarks as many did not have degrees. And these people will be used against the Sadrists.

Lynnette In Minnesota said...

Thank you for that history, Abbas. Very interesting.

neurotic_wife said...

KK, I was watching the news, and yes you r right. On one channel, sharqiya, they showed footage of Iraqi army giving their weapons to mahdi offices. Then on Iraqiya they say mahdi militia giving up their weapons to the army. I sat there confused like hell!!!As I said in my own post, I dont know why the hell people are pissed off this is happening??? This should have happened a long time ago. Now I dunno what to believe when they talk abt casualties, are they really innocent Iraqis or are they muqtada thugs???

Sang J. Moon said...

There is no accurate overall picture right now about what is happening. Take all second hand information as suspect. First hand information seems very local in nature and tends to be the duck and cover type. However, it is clear that there is no major overall battle occurring. Shooting is relatively isolated. I suspect that the Iraq military forces aren't moving very quickly, and the militias are not putting up that much of a fight when pressed. Whether this is the calm before the storm or just the normal tempo of this operation is to be seen. What is clear is that this is a fight between central and local authority - something similar to federal vs. state rights in the USA except guns instead of lawyers are the main weapons. This was a fight long in coming, but I was surprised that it would occur under Maliki. I didn't think he had the balls considering his track record to even start this fight.

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