April 6, 2004
Al-Sadr: A Nasty Piece of WorkBy Michael Morris
The Iranian backed Shiite cleric, Moqdata Sadr, has probably known for quite some time about the impending announcement made yesterday, when the Iraqi Governing Council issued a warrant for his arrest in connection with last year's murder of the moderate cleric Abdel—Majid al—Khoei, in Najaf.
At that time, it was speculated by many that he was responsible for al—Khoei's murder; it was the talk of the town. It's not surprising that Sadr has started off his mini Islamic revolution just in time for the handover scheduled in June.
Following the arrest of his aide, Sheik Yacoubi, and the Coalition's closure of his al—Hawza newspaper, Moqdata Sadr must have known his number was coming up fast, and he decided that it was now or never.
We've all seen his ugly pudgy mug (sweating profusely) on our television screens and not too many Iraqis will miss him once he's finally been removed from the action. Of course, his followers, who only represent a small extremist fringe in the Shiite community, along with his Iranian handlers, may shed a few tears. But who cares about them?
On Monday, as reported by the Iranian news agency IRNA, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid—Reza Asefi, said:
'... the occupying forces were responsible for continued ongoing unrest in Iraq and (the) presence of the occupiers in Iraq has caused growing insecurity and chaos in the country.'
It's notable that the Iranians, being so concerned about any bloodshed in Iraq, failed to mention in the statement anything about their good buddy Moqdata Sadr. They appear to be the only ones not aware that it's his uniformed militia doing all the rioting and attempting to murder Coalition personnel.
Perhaps the Islamic Republic News Agency is taking lessons from BBC Iran.
IRNA went on to report that:
'Asefi called for speedy pullout of the occupying forces from Iraq and full transfer of power to the people.'
The Iranians would just love that. The speedy pullout of Coalition forces will leave the door wide open for their boy Sadr to take over Iraq, and transform it into a fanatical and backward Islamic state just like Iran. No thanks.
In fact, the Iranians have been backing Moqdata Sadr for quite some time. On one of his trips to Tehran he met with Iran's powerful former President, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is old—school fundamentalist, and who wants to see Iraq come under the influence of the Iranian hardliners. Sadr is also close to Ayatollah Kazem Haeri, another hardcore cleric from the Iranian Shia city of Qom. It's just the sort of charming company a medieval cretin such as Moqdata Sadr would tend to keep.
Once the Iranian hardliners knew that Iraq's most senior Shia cleric, the moderate Ayatollah Ali Sistani, wasn't willing to play ball with them, they took the militant Sadr under their wing.
More recently, he unsuccessfully tried to intimidate Ayatollah Ali Sistani, by having his spooky black—shirted militia surround the senior cleric's house and demand that he either pledge his allegiance to Sadr or leave the country. That's known as Iranian democracy: too bad it didn't work out so well for the Iranians.
On November 5th 2003, Moqdata Sadr had this to say after being asked about violent incidents between his private army and US Coalition forces:
"It is important to avoid spilling blood, aggression, wars and terrorism to sanctify the fraternity between the two peoples,"
Then last Sunday he ordered his followers to:
"terrorise the enemy"
He's even worse than John Kerry with those u—turns.
And now by declaring war —— as well as suicide —— on the Coalition forces, Moqdata Sadr has played his last desperate hand. The main problem with his strategy is that he doesn't have the support of most of the Shiites in Iraq, partly because of his ill—conceived move against Ayatollah Ali Sistani, which did not go down well. Even in Iraq they have some respect for their elders, and it seems that the precocious thirty year old Sadr has wildly miscalculated.
What is quite surprising is that it took the Coalition so long to act against Sadr. It's been widely known since last year that the Pentagon had already identified him as an obstruction to the successful rollout of democracy in Iraq. And apparently, the warrant for his arrest was drawn up a few months ago and seems to have been left to gather dust intentionally.
Perhaps the Coalition planners have been tactically astute by not moving directly against him too quickly, and instead have picked off his aides and shut down his beloved newspaper, forcing Moqdata Sadr to lose his tiny—brained temper. By slowly ratcheting up the pressure, they may have correctly predicted that he would end up throwing his toys out of his pram, and he'd call out his black—shirts to rampage through the streets and attack Coalition troops.
Michael Morris is our London Correspondent