The Sadryyin movement

Daily: The Nation
Date: 25.08.04

On August 12, 2004 Muqtada al-Sadr, a young Iraqi Shia cleric, forwarded his four major
demands, in the wake of         a weeklong skirmishes in and around city of Najaf with the
Coalition/Iraqi forces. First, the Coalition should liberate Iraq or at least Najaf, the Shiite
holy city. Second, the Iraqi Transitional Government should be replaced with a Shia
theocracy. Third, his associates/followers should be set free. Fourth, pardon should be
awarded to his militiamen.

The aforementioned situation is a reminder of 1997 when his late father Grand Ayatollah
Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr issued a Fatwa during a Friday sermon wherein he demanded
liberation of the Shia concentrated areas like the then Saddam City (now Sadr City) from
Saddam’s control in order to set up a Shia theocratic autonomous government. Secondly,
he required release of more than one hundred Shia Ulemas/scholars imprisoned in 1991 by
the Saddam regime.
                                
The result of the Gulf War of 1991 shook the Saddam regime, which rightfully understood
the growing importance of Shiites of Iraq. Hence, a process of reconciliation and
cooperation was initiated. Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr was brought near the Baath regime by
recognizing him as a Grand Ayatollah in 1992 as well as awarding him an authority over the
Saddam City. He promulgated Shia law and Fiqh in the city, a sprawling Baghdad slum. He
also did public welfare works and won the support of the inhabitants especially and other
Shias generally. The experiment was successful and encouraging. He named his efforts as
a Sadryyin Movement (Sadrist Movement). However, his popularity invited a rift with the
ruling regime. Resultantly, later on, he was assassinated in 1999 along with his two sons in
Najaf. Muqtada al-Sadr, the third and youngest son, who was left behind, went underground.

At the end of the second Gulf War in April 2003, it was expected that the Shias of Iraq
would side with the Coalition and welcome their stay. Muqtada al-Sadr reappeared and
named the Saddam City as Sadr City. This time the Coalition was in need of cooperation,
so he was allowed to enjoy autonomy there. Till March 2004, for about one year, he
rejuvenated the once lost Sadryyin Movement, a legacy of his father as well as of his uncle
Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr. The experiment was successful this time too. His popularity
spread from Sadr City to other Shia cities of the south. He became bolder in his words till
his weekly newspaper namely ‘al-Hawza’ (named after the religious seminary) was closed
for publication by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) on March 28, 2004 with
allegation that it was writing false news; disturbing public order; and inciting violence i.e.
crossing the “red lines”.

By then, on July 18, 2003 Muqtada had already aired his two demands: liberation of Iraq
from the Coalition forces and installation of an Islamic (Shia sect) government in Iraq. To
achieve the both, he had also announced formation of a religious militia called Mehdi Army.
He had made Sadr City a center of his activities. However, he had declared to follow
peaceful means to achieve the both ends. At that time, he had also condemned attacks of
the Saddam’s loyalists on the Coalition.

On April 04, 2004 Mustafa al-Yacoubi, one of Al-Sadr’s closest aides, was held on murder
charges of Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei, who was stabbed to death by a mob in April
2003. In response, al-Sadr told his followers to “terrorize” the CPA as the peaceful methods
had failed. He also articulated support for the Sunnis engaged with the Coalition forces in
the north, besides Hizbollah and Hamas of Palestine. Thousands of Iraqis in Baghdad and
the Shias of the cities of Kut, Karbala, Ammara, and Najaf expressed solidarity with him.
Moreover, the Mehdi Army got control over government buildings and police stations in
areas of its influence.

On April 05, the CPA announced that it had issued a warrant for al-Sadr’s arrest on
charges pertaining to al-Khoei’s murder. Consequently, there appeared the first direct
confrontation between the Mehdi Army and the Coalition forces in the Sadr City. Afterwards,
a truce happened and situation became relatively cool.

On August 05, 2004 Muqtada al-Sadr called on his followers to the show the Coalition
forces their teeth, as the truce was over due to some reasons. Resultantly, clashes broke
out in at least three cities between his supporters and US/Iraqi security forces.

On August 07, 2004 the interim Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, signed a limited amnesty
law declaring pardon for the outlaws (insurgents) who had committed minor crimes, but he
restored the capital punishment for those who had killed someone including the personnel
of the Coalition forces. Taking it as a law specific to him, on August 09, Muqtada pledged to
fight till last drop of his blood unless his July 18, 2003 demands were not met. In the
meantime, Muqtada had rejected invitations to participate in a National Conference and
National Council. He also did not indicate any willingness to take part in the elections
scheduled for January 2005.

Like his father, Muqtada commenced the movement from Sadr city but extended to Najaf,
despite the fact that the latter was a stronghold of his opponent, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, a
moderate Shia cleric, and that the Sadryyin had been dispossessed from Najaf in past by
Sistani's followers.

Having looked at past and present, there seems two pronged impossibilities for the future:
as the Coalition forces are not willing to leave Iraq and abandoning backing of the
Transitional Government, Muqtada is also not willing to disarm his militia (a part of the
movement) and abandon Najaf. The gain of one has become loss of another. However, it is
still to be seen whether this movement, which seems to be inspired by the revolutionary
movement of Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, can offer a parallel comprehensive politico-
religious formula to govern a country, which, unlike Iran, is divided on significant ethnic and
sectarian lines?

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