Iraq Q & A
Who Is Moqtada Sadr?
Monday, August 16, 2004; 10:50 AM
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.
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. Sadrs 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.
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.
Sadrs religious authority is far overshadowed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the countrys 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 Sadrs 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, Iraqs interim government has taken the lead in dealing with Sadr.
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 didnt 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.