Friday, March 30, 2007

Muqtada Al-Sadr

Of the many things that aggravate me, one is the administration and media tendency to oversimplify and demonize our opposition. This is especially true in the case of Muqtada Al-Sadr. Notice how he is always identified as the "radical" cleric. But "radical" as opposed to what? If you only listen to the administration, he's some evil super-villain. But the reality of Al-Sadr is a great deal more complex. He does oppose the American occupation of Iraq, but his Mahdi army has not engaged in full-scale insurgency against us (yes, there have been incidents with some factions, but nothing compared to what could happen if his estimated 80,000 trained fighters mobilized). He does want Iraq to become an Islamic theocracy, with himself in power, but he is also a modern capitalist. He has opposed Iranian intervention in Iraq, but has accepted Iranian aid. Thus far, he has played the politics of the new Iraq rather deftly, controlling 30 seats in parliament. He is again calling on his followers to engage in peaceful resistance, this time on April 9th to commemorate the fall of Baghdad.

The latest statement was read to worshippers during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kufa, a holy Shiite city south of Baghdad where al-Sadr frequently led the ritual. It also was read to thousands of worshippers in Baghdad's Sadr City Shiite district, a stronghold of his Mahdi Army militia.

"I renew my call for the occupier (the United States) to leave our land," he said in the statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. "The departure of the occupier will mean stability for Iraq, victory for Islam and peace and defeat for terrorism and infidels."

Al-Sadr, whose militia fought U.S. troops in 2004 but has generally cooperated with an ongoing U.S.-Iraqi security push in Baghdad, blamed the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq for the violence raging in the country, lack of services as well as sectarian bloodshed.

"Four years on and Iraq is still without water, electricity, fuel, security, safety and, furthermore, it is in the middle of sedition," he said in the statement, which is dated March 25 but was only issued Friday.

"As if this was not enough, the occupier also isolated Iraq from the Arab and Muslim worlds, so much so that all foreign nations have ceased to care about an Iraq lying in ruin," it added.

Al-Sadr has been a vocal critic of the U.S. presence in Iraq since the very beginning, rallying tens of thousands of supporters in mass anti-American protests since his Sadrist movement rose to prominence in 2003 as the protector of impoverished Shiites.

"You, oppressed people of Iraq, let the entire world hear your voice that you reject occupation, destruction and terrorism," he said in calling for the April 9 demonstration.

"Fly Iraqi flags atop homes, apartment buildings and government departments to show the sovereignty and independence of Iraq, and that you reject the presence of American flags and those of other nations occupying our beloved Iraq. Keep them there until they leave our land," he said.

I'm not saying that Muqtada is in any way a good guy, but he's not quite the demon that the media portray. His vision of Iraq is only a threat to America if our intent is to have Iraq be a client state. Simply put, he's fighting for an independent Iraq, which from another perspective would make him a patriot. It is important to understand his words and goals, rather than to simply paint him as a demon.
In reality, we may have to deal with Al-Sadr for a long time. He's made himself a power player, and we might be better off working with him than trying to eliminate him.

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