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Iraq Q & A

Who Is Moqtada Sadr?

washingtonpost.com Staff
Monday, August 16, 2004; 10:50 AM

Moqtada Sadr is a 30-year-old Shiite cleric from a poor neighborhood of Baghdad who has long opposed the U.S. occupation of Iraq. He draws much of his popularity from the reverence many Iraqi Shiites feel toward his father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, who was assassinated in 1999, allegedly by Saddam Hussein loyalists.

An Iraqi Call: Get on the Bus (Oct. 31, 2003)


Moqtada Sadr arrives at a press conference Aug. 9 at the shrine of Imam Ali in the battered holy Shiite city of Najaf. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye - AFP)


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Why is Sadr in the news?

On Aug. 5, Sadr -- who has long opposed the American presence in Iraq -- called anew for Iraqis to violently rise up against U.S. security forces. A U.S. helicopter was shot down in fighting that shattered a two-month ceasefire. Continued violence has left untold numbers dead. On Aug. 9, Sadr rebuffed an appeal by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to end the fighting in Najaf.

Sadr Rejects Entreaty to End Conflict in Najaf (Aug. 10, 2004)

U.S. forces began offensive operations against Sadr’s militia on Thursday, Aug. 12, but held up the next day to allow for negotiations between the defiant cleric and the Iraqi government. On Friday, Sadr issued a statement calling for U.S. withdrawal from Najaf, and one of the cleric’s aides said that, in exchange for his militia’s pullout from Najaf, Sadr also wanted its members granted amnesty and for his supporters to be allowed to participate in politics. Negotiations broke down over the weekend and fighting resumed Sunday. On Monday, an Iraqi conference that convened to choose an interim national assembly authorized a delegation of Iraqi politicians to travel to Najaf to try to negotiate again with Sadr.

Delegation Dispatched to Meet With Sadr (Aug. 16, 2004)

Fighting Halted in Embattled Najaf (Aug. 14, 2004)

Sadr is wanted for his alleged role in the April 2003 killing of a rival cleric, who was hacked to death by a mob in Najaf. And then on March 28, U.S. troops shut down Sadr’s weekly newspaper for publishing inflammatory articles about the U.S. occupation, which prompted clashes between Sadr’s armed supporters and U.S. troops that left 70 Americans and hundreds of Iraqis dead. After a tense and bloody standoff, Sadr’s forces began to withdraw on April 12 and a negotiated truce took effect in June. An Iraqi security force patrolled Najaf while American troops remained on the outskirts through the handover of political authority to Iraqis on June 28.

Why is the city of Najaf so important?

Najaf, located 90 miles south of Baghdad, is one of the holiest cities to Shiite Muslims. It is home to the Imam Ali shrine where the remains of the son-in-law of the prophet Mohammad are buried. Sadr’s forces are using the shrine and its adjacent cemetery as a firing base. U.S. commanders have said the shrine and cemetery are off limits for attacks.

What is the Mahdi Army?

The Mahdi Army is a fighting force loyal to Sadr that is estimated to have between 2,000 and 10,000 men, armed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and light weapons. Such independent armed groups threaten the stability and security of Iraq, according to U.S. commanders and officials with the now disbanded occupation authority.

What do Iraqis think of Sadr?

Sadr’s religious authority is far overshadowed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country’s leading religious figure. Sadr and his followers remain distinctly unpopular in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, where the more established clergy hold sway. But he commands a street following in Baghdad and the long-neglected cities of the south. During battles in the spring, Sistani condemned the U.S. approach to dealing with Sadr’s uprising and called on both sides to "refrain from escalating steps that will lead to more chaos and bloodshed." Since the transfer of political authority on June 28, Iraq’s interim government has taken the lead in dealing with Sadr.

Call of History Draws Iraqi Cleric to the Political Fore (Feb. 1, 2004)

Does Sadr’s uprising mean Iraq’s Shiite majority has turned against the United States?

Not necessarily. As Aljazeera.net, the Web site of the Arab satellite news channel, said, Sadr "is seen by many Shia and politicians as a zealous leader who has chosen the wrong time for this escalation of protests." The U.S. campaign to quell Sadr appears to have been based on faulty assumptions. Instead of turning on the upstart cleric, many Iraqis who didn’t support him rallied to his cause. Sunnis in Fallujah and elsewhere in central Iraq who had deemed Sadr a troublemaker began to laud him as a hero.

Fallujah Gains Mythic Air (April 13, 2004)


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