The mass disturbances of Iraqi Shiites (some media call them “revolt”) started after the US troops had captured radical leader of Iraqi Shiites Muktada as-Sadr.
In addition, on March 28 the occupation authorities banned publishing the Al-Hawza newspaper of Muktada as-Sadr.
The current events in Iraq can be hardly called a “revolt”. Also, it is early to say that the occupation administration and Provisional Governing Council of Iraq are losing control over the country territory. The thing one can say about for sure is the struggle for power between Shiite leaders, with active involvement of the US troops.
Today there are two main leaders of Iraqi Shiites – Ali al-Sistani and Muktada as-Sadr. Al-Sistani represents so-called “moderate” Shiites. He and his circle are collaborating with the occupation authorities. The recent example of this cooperation is the work on the draft of Iraqi Constitution. At the same time, al-Sistani demands withdrawing the occupation troops from Iraq and handing the power to Iraqi national government. Also, during the work on the draft of Iraqi Constitution, al-Sistani insisted on using the norms of Shariat as the fundamentals for the Constitution. Head of occupation administration Paul Bremer said that he would never agree with the Constitution based of the Shariat law, and threatened with imposing veto. Remarkably, al-Sistani agreed with abandoning the Shariat norms in the draft Constitution (before this, he protested for a while to maintain his reputation). This does not mean that Shiites would not insist on their idea during the work on the final version of the Constitution.
Ali al-Sistani and his circle can be called “evolutionists”, they prefer to achieve their purposes step by step by peaceful tools. Muktada as-Sadr and his supporters are quite another matter. They are real revolutionaries.
Imam Muktada as-Sadr is very popular among Shiites, especially among young people. He is young himself, this year he will turn 31 years old. He is a nephew of cleric Muhammad Sadr – the former leader of the Shiites’ struggle against Saddam’s regime. He was killed by special services of Saddam regime.
Muktada as-Sadr inherited some features of his uncle. However, the energy of the nephew is being spent not on the struggle with Saddam (who was overthrown a year ago), but to become the absolute leader of Iraqi Shiites. They appreciate his eloquence and persistence and call as-Sadr Junior “the second Homeini”.
In 2003 Muktada as-Sadr used the anarchy after the collapse of Saddam regime and recruited his own army of 10,000 people (so-called “Makhdi Army”). It controls the Eastern neighborhoods of Baghdad where 3 million of Shiites reside and which has nickname “Sadr’s city”. Al-Sadr’s office is located there.
The supporters of Muktada as-Sadr were suspected of the murder of Shiite cleric Abdel Madzhid al-Hoi who was cooperating with British occupation authorities after returning to Iraq from London emigration a year ago. Al-Hoi was killed in town En-Nadzhaf sacred for all Moslems when he was trying to hide a cleric considered as “pro-Saddam” in a Mosque from the mob.
In April 2004 the supporters of as-Sadr encircled the house of Ali al-Sistani in En-Nadzhaf and were laying siege on it for two days. They requested the leader of moderate Shiites to leave the country and threatened him with death. However, this incident is not so complicated as the murder of al-Hoi. Later the fact was revealed that al-Sistani was not at home at that time. However, the elderly cleric went into hiding for 9 more days and was accusing as-Sadr supporters of the attempt to assassinate him out of his sanctuary.
Whoever was involved in the two above mentioned incidents (and in the explosions in Shiite Mosques for the last year), it is clear that the struggle for power is in progress within the biggest Iraqi community, and American troops are involved in it. Al-Sistani is unlikely to suppress Muktada as-Sakr without the assistance of the US and its allies. The latest incidents in Iraq demonstrated that both the US administration and the leaders of the moderate Shiites came to the conclusion: Makhdi Army and its leader must be liquidated in case if they do not surrender. The “liquidation” is not desirable because it can create one more “martyr” died from occupants. This would contribute to the growth of radical outlook among Shiites.
However, if the matter comes to its extreme, Americans will be ready to kill as-Sandr. Paul Bremer called to “punish rebels” because “these Iraqis are behaving over the limits!” Mr. Bremer outlawed Muktadu as-Sadr because his group “put itself beyond the legal authorities”.