Thursday, October 19, 2006


One of the main questions I've been exploring in my study of the Sadr movement is how much control Moqtada himself actually exercises over the Mahdi Army, and the extent to which fighters who identified as "Sadrist" were committed to Moqtada himself, and his stated goal of an Iraqi Islamic state, or more committed to running neighborhoods and killing Sunnis. I thought that this article from last August, while giving a very good overview of the movement itself, somewhat overestimated Sadr's personal power, and this article from today's Washington Post confirms that his control over some of the more extreme elements which identify as "Sadrist" is virtually non-existent.

From what I've read, the Mahdi Army was always more of a loose coalition of militias than a single army, but in the violent months since the bombing of al-Askariya last February, there was a real question of whether Moqtada was in fact turning the violence on and off, as it seems he was able to do throughout 2003 and 2004, or whether he was really trying, and failing, to keep the lid on as he consolidated his substantial political gains from the December elections.

Ironically, the same things which originally drew so many young, angry Shias, many of them religious school washouts, to Moqtada after the U.S. invasion, his youth, his relative lack of scholarly credentials, his legitimacy derived from his martyred father, his militant stance against the U.S. occupation and the government created by it, and his slang-riddled, radical sectarian-nativist rhetoric, are the very things which have left him open to challenges from higher-ranking clerics for the movement's leadership, to charges of "selling out," and which have fanned an anti-Sunni inferno which is blazing out of control.


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