Hojatoleslam Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr .
(born August 12, 1973) is
the fourth son of the famous Iraqi Shi‘a cleric, the late Grand
Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr and son-in-law of Grand
Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir As-Sadr. While he does not hold any official
title in the Iraqi government, he is one of the most influential
religious and political figures in the country.
The elder al-Sadr, a well-respected figure
throughout the Shi'a Islamic World, was murdered along with two of his sons
allegedly by the government of Saddam Hussein, though some believe it was an
insider job carried out by the orders coming from Najaf, in February 1999 in
Najaf, the power center of the al-Sadr clan. Muqtada's father-in-law was
executed by the Iraqi authorities in 1980. As Muqtada al-Sadr lacks the
religious education and degrees required by Shi‘a doctrines, he does not claim
the title of mujtahid (the equivalent of a senior religious scholar) or the
authority to issue fatwas (religious edicts); consequently he bases his
religious authority on his lineage alone.
Assassinations and violence
His relationships with other Shi‘a clerics are tense and occasionally violent.
Some of his followers are alleged to be responsible for the 10 April 2003
assassination of Imam Abdul Majid al-Khoei. This is accounted for by the fact
that the perpetrators pulled Abdul Majid al-Khoei and his aide's bodies with
ropes across some alleys near the Shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf and shouted
slogans claiming vengeance for the assassination of al-Sadr. The al-Khoei
Family, however, do not hold Muqtada al-Sadr responsible and have blamed
Ba'athists for the killing.
There was a dispute over the keys to the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf. The mosque
contains the tomb of Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and, according
to Shi‘a belief, heir to the Prophet's legacy. It is among the most sacred Shi‘a
sites, and also the source of a considerable amount of revenue. The traditional
hereditary holder of the keys, Haidar Raifee fled for fear of his life after the
fall of Saddam's regime. Mr. Raifee was widely believed to be an agent of
Saddam's Ba'ath party who had informed on countless Shi‘a opponents of Saddam's
regime. Many of these activists and their families were allegedly tortured and
killed by Saddam's Mukhabarat, or secret police.
According to witnesses, at the mosque they were confronted by an angry mob, some
of whom shouted "Raifee is back". They called him an "animal" and threatened to
beat him with their sandals (a traditional Iraqi insult). According to reports,
Al-Khoei fired his pistol in the air to get the crowd to back off. However,
rather than retreating, the angry crowd surged at them. The mob killed Raifee
with bayonets and knives; al-Khoei was chased down and killed in an alley near
the nearby headquarters of al-Sadr.
Ethnic Cleansing of Sunni
Muqtada al-Sadr's militia have been involved in widespread ethnic cleansing of
Sunni, especially those living in Shia areas. . Reports also indicate that the
death squads which have been responsible for the deaths of many Sunis are not
the actions of rogue elements but "a carefully orchestrated response to the
attacks of Sunni extremists" by Sadr's Mahdi Army .It is however difficult to
determine al-Sadr's personal involvement, but his public statements have on
occasion condemned violence against Sunnis as well as terrorist attacks directed
against the shia population. He has exhorted his followers not to fall into the
trap of tit for tat retaliation leading to civil war. He claims that America
stands to gain the most from an Iraqi Civil War which would require the
continued presence of US troops and put the US in the role of political referee
and powerbroker between the waring factions. He has been the most consistent
advocate of Iraqi nationalism and Shia-Sunni unity.
Muqtada al-Sadr gained popularity among younger Iraqis following the
toppling of the Hussein government by the 2003 invasion of Iraq,
mostly owing to his status as his father's son, as he has no formal
religious standing to interpret the Koran and relies for religious
advice on an Iraqi cleric exiled in Iran, Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri.
It is common belief that al-Sadr wishes to create an Islamic
theocracy in Iraq, although al-Sadr himself has on occasion stated
that he wishes to create an "Islamic democracy." In April 2004 he
initiated a revolt against the coalition of forces occupying Iraq.
As of August 19, 2004, U.S. officials express puzzlement as to al-Sadr's
motivations and goals. In his sermons and public interviews al-Sadr
has demanded an immediate withdraw of all US led coalition forces,
all foreign troops under United Nations control, and the
establishment of a new central Iraqi government, not connected to
the Ba'ath party or the current Allawi government. He has declared
that the Allawi government is illegitimate, and he refuses to
cooperate with them; however, his disapproval waxes and wanes
depending on the success of negotiations with the interim
government. He envisions a Shi‘a-dominated government, much like
Iran's, but independent from Iran. He has met Khamenei and "told him
that we share the same ideology, but that politically and
militarily, I would not be an extension of Iran."
Relation with Shi‘ites and Clerics
Al-Sadr commands strong support (especially in the Sadr City ghetto
in Baghdad, formerly called Saddam City but renamed after the elder
al-Sadr). After the fall of the Saddam government in 2003, Muqtada
al-Sadr organized thousands of his supporters into a political
movement, which includes a military wing known as the Jaysh al-Mahdi
or Mahdi Army). The name refers to the Mahdi, a long-since
disappeared imam who is thought by Shii Muslims to be due to
reappear when the end of time approaches. This group has
periodically engaged in violent conflict with US and other Coalition
forces, while the larger Sadrist movement has formed its own
religious courts, and organized social services, law enforcement and
prisons in areas under its control.
Relations with al-Sistani
Relations with the most powerful cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali
al-Sistani, have also been tense. Al-Sistani's approach of
non-violent confrontation and negotiation rather than guerilla
resistance is often in conflict with the radical young al-Sadr. Al-Sistani
is said by observers to draw support from established,
property-owning Shi'ites, while Muqtada al-Sadr's support is
strongest among the uneducated urban poor, many of whom see him as
their champion. The murder of Abdul Majid al-Khoei, the son of al-Sistani's
mentor Grand Ayatollah Abul-Qassim Khoei, believed to be by
Muqtada's forces, may be an additional source of tension.
Sadr's followers attempted to seize control of the al-Sistani-controlled
holy sites in Karbala in October 2003 but were repulsed, with dozens
of people killed and injured. Armed clashes between al-Sadr's al-Mahdi
Army and the Badr Organization have broken out with significant
bloodshed resulting. However, Sistani has thus far refused to
publicly chastise Sadr for the spring uprising against the US led
coalition, instead decreeing that both sides should avoid incitement
to violence and condemning the coalition for its tactics. This led
many Muqtada supporters to believe that al-Sistani's refusal to call
for armed attacks on the United States or zionist and imperialist
powers is un-Islamic, further polarizing the dichotomy that is the
Iraqi shia population toward Muqtada al-Sadr.