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July 3, 2004
So Much For Sadr's Political Power

Moqtada al-Sadr tossed the dice again yesterday, apparently eschewing his previously-stated desire to enter Iraqi politics and calling again for armed resistance to the "occupation." The Washington Post reports that Sadr and his organization appears less coherent than ever:

Moqtada Sadr, the rebellious Shiite Muslim cleric, insisted Friday that the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq had not ended with the recent handover of limited political powers to an interim government, and called on his followers to continue resisting the large presence of foreign troops in the country.

"I want to draw your attention to the fact there was no transferring of authority," said Jabir Khafaji, a top Sadr lieutenant, reading from a letter from the cleric during Friday prayers at a mosque in the southern city of Kufa where Sadr commonly preaches. "What has changed is the name only."

Khafaji also demanded that the new Iraqi government defer to the Shiite religious leadership based in the neighboring holy city of Najaf. He asserted that the Mahdi Army, Sadr's black-clad militia group that was recently decimated in two months of battle with U.S. forces, was "the army of Iraq."

The Iraqis better hope that the Mahdi Army doesn't become the new armed service of Iraq, for two reasons. One, the leadership of the Mahdi insist on strict Shari'a law and have executed people without trial on several occasions -- which is one of the reasons the CPA felt it necessary to take on the Mahdis last March. The second, as reporter Scott Wilson alludes, is their sheer incompetence. The US had very effectively rolled up a lot of their organization, including several key lieutenants of Sadr, and the Mahdis lost big in every engagement they initiated with the Americans. The only reason they survived is that they hid in the mosques, which Americans were understandably reluctant to attack. However, if the Mahdis used that tactic against the Iranians or the Syrians, they would soon find the holy shrines to be nothing but a distant memory, along with the Mahdis themselves.

Iraqis want to move on and get their country back on their feet. The last thing they need right now is renewed fighting on the streets of Najaf and Baghdad. Sadr only offers a return to the past, while Iraqis look to the future. If Sadr wanted to turn his organization into a political party, he must be getting advice from the neo-Stalinist folks at International ANSWER, and I expect him now to be just as successful.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 3, 2004 9:35 AM

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