Muqtada, Man of Peace

Muqtada al-Sadr, the militia leading cleric and son of an Iraqi Grand Ayatollah, made his first public appearance on May 16th since the bitter defeat of his Mahdi Army by Coalition forces in August of last year. Initially, on his return to public life, Muqtada tried to paint himself as a peacemaker…

A follower of the “peacemaker” Muqtada al-Sadr

Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has reemerged as a political player after months of staying out of the limelight.

The cleric, who used to make the headlines with his radical views and his grassroots militia, the Mahdi Army, is now casting himself in the role of mediator building bridges between his own Shia community and the Sunni Arabs.

On May 16, Muqtada appeared in public for the first time since the Mahdi Army clashed with United States troops in Najaf and Baghdad in April-June last year.

Six days later, he held talks to ease tensions between the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars and the Badr Organisation, the militia wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the main Shia political parties

The pro-Sadr parliamentary group takes the same line as Muqtada on the need to set a firm timetable for the exit of foreign troops from Iraq, and on the release of Mahdi Army members captured during last year’s fighting in Najaf and Sadr City.

At the same time, the bloc is attempting to maintain some distance between itself and the cleric.

The Sadrists are in a hurry to put an end to the presence of multinational forces, whereas other politicians think they are needed to keep the security situation stable.

The Sadrist group also wants to see Islam named as the principal source of legislation in the new constitution.

Muqtada’s new role as peacemaker, and the fact that some of his supporters are now part of mainstream Iraqi politics, does not mean he has altogether abandoned his hard-line views, in particular his hostility to the presence of foreign troops and his apparent dislike for the Iraqi government.

On May 20, for example, Mahdi Army members clashed with Iraqi troops in the southern town of Nasiriyah. Muqtada has also organised anti-American demonstrations in Baghdad, Najaf and Kut.

Spokesman Yasseri said that Muqrada now wants to use the Mahdi Army to help create a peaceful society, but that he will not rule out violence if it is deemed necessary.

“In the event that society is exposed to a military attack or [other] danger from any quarter, then Mahdi Army will mobilise to defend the cities,” said Yasseri. “If the situation becomes stable, then the Mahdi Army will be used to help build up the economy and work for the independence of Iraq.”

However, this week Muqtada was up to his old familiar antics of bad-mouthing American forces. Muqtada, couldn’t help but let the real Al-Sadr we’ve come to know shine through in this Aljazeera interview:

Muqtada condemned senior Shiite leaders and the government for embracing the elections that “legitimised the occupation.”

In an interview with a news organization, al-Sadr also criticized the desecration of the Quran by interrogators and guards at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying their action was criminal.

“God willing, whenever the tyranny’s blows increase in frequency, our own courage and strength increase, too,” Muqtada said. “Islam has lost nothing from this crime.”

Al-Sadr indirectly criticized Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, for promoting the process that led to the formation of the country’s Shiite-led government.

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