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How influential is Muqtada al-Sadr and his Iranian ties?

Interesting Article: Moqtada al-Sadr orders halt to attacks on US troops stationed in Iraq: Cleric tells militias to stop operations until end of US withdrawal by Associated Press / Baghdad published Sunday, September 11, 2011
With US troops withdrawing from Iraq, what power vacuum will be left in Iraq? Who has the influence and power within the country to take over politically? What other regional players will come into the arena and change the  pro-US stance that we enjoy in Iraq today?


An interesting article by the Associated press spoke about an influential individual who has been a power player recently, and one that has been monitored by the west for many years. Muqtada al-Sadr, also known as "Sayyid" Muqtadā al-Ṣadr ("Sayyid" denotes males accepted as descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad through his grandsons, Hasan ibn Ali and Husain ibn Ali, sons of the prophet's daughter Fatima Zahra and his son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib. In the Arab world, it is the equivalent of the English word "liege-lord" or "master").
Al-Sadr (see picture on right), was in the spotlight recently, according to the article, for telling his followers to stop attacking US troops in Iraq, so as not to slow the US withdrawal from the country. Al-sadr has for many years played a key role in Iraq, his father Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, was a respected figure throughout the Shi'a Islamic world and was killed by Saddam Hussein. Al-Sadr's prominance came after 2003, owing to his father's status and his public sermons that demanded  the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. At the time, his force was mobilized using supporters of his father, and they were adequately name Mahdi Army, also known as the Mahdi Militia or Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM), ("Mahdi" being referred by the Shi’a to the Twelfth Imam who will show himself and battle evil and prevail). Created by a small faction of Religious Shi'ite Islamists, the Mahdi Army began as a group of roughly 500 seminary students connected with al-Sadr in the Sadr City district of Baghdad, formerly known as Saddam City. The group moved in to fill the security vacuum in Sadr City and in a string of southern Iraqi cities following the fall of Baghdad to U.S-led coalition forces on April 9, 2003. The group has been involved in dispensing aid to Iraqis and provided security in the Shi'a slums from looters. Gradually, the militia grew and al-Sadr formalized it in June 2003. The Mahdi Army grew into a sizable force of up to 10,000 who even operated what amounted to a shadow government in some areas. Following key battles by the Mahdi army as a potent force in Iraq, al-Sadr left in 2007 to Iran to improve his religious standing and study to be an Ayatollah (the title is currently granted to top Shi’a mujtahid, after completing sat'h and kharij studies in the hawza. By then the mujtahid would be able to issue his own edicts from the sources of Islamic religious laws: the Qur'an, the Sunnah, ijmāʻ, and 'aql. The ayatollah can then teach in hawzas according to his speciality, can act as a reference to religious questions, and act as a judge. Ayatollah is similar in rank to a Bishop or Cardinal in Catholicism, and Chief Rabbi in Judaism). Al-Sadr continued gaining prominence, in March 2008 during the Battle of Basra, the Sadr Movement launched a nationwide civil disobedience campaign across Iraq to protest raids and detentions against the Mahdi Army. In August 2008, al-Sadr ordered most of his militiamen to disarm but said he will maintain elite fighting units to resist the Americans if a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops is not established. On May 1, 2009 al-Sadr further bolstered his status by paying a surprise visit to Ankara where, in his first public appearance for two years, he met with Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for talks which focused on the political process and requested Turkey play a greater role in establishing stability in the Middle East. After the meeting al-Sadr visited supporters in Istanbul, where their spokesman says, they may open a representative office. On January 5, 2011, al-Sadr returned to the Iraqi city of Najaf, in order to take a more proactive and visible role in the new Iraqi  government. Three days later, thousands of Iraqis turned out in Najaf to hear his first speech since his return, in which he called the USA, Israel, and the UK common enemies against Iraq. His speech was greeted by the crowd chanting “Yes, yes for Muqtada! Yes, yes for the leader!", whilst waving Iraqi flags and al-Sadr's pictures. This is a disturbing picture that has arisen, especially because al-Sadr is one of the most influential religious and political figures in the country right now. Add into this mix the political partys in Iraq, such as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) (previously known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)). Which in light of its gains in the three 2005 elections and government appointments, one of Iraq's most powerful political parties and was the largest party in the Iraqi Council of Representatives until the 2010 Iraqi elections. ISCI was founded in 1982 during the Iran–Iraq War after the leading Islamist insurgent group, Islamic Dawa Party, was severely weakened by a government crackdown following Dawa's unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Saddam. The Iranian Islamic revolutionary government arranged for the formation of SCIRI, which was based in exile in Tehran, under the leadership of Mohammad-Baqir al-Hakim. Hakim, living in exile in Iran, was the son of Ayatollah Mohsen-Hakim and a member of one of the leading Shi'a clerical families in Iraq. However, there are crucial ideological differences between SCIRI and al-Dawa. SCIRI supports the ideologies of Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that Islamic Government must be controlled by the ulema (Islamic scholars). Al-Dawa, on the other hand, follows the position of Iraq's late Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, and al-Dawa co-founder, that government should be controlled by the ummah (Muslim community as a whole). Despite this ideological disagreement, several of SCIRI's factions came from al-Dawa before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This historical intersection is significant because al-Dawa was widely viewed as a terrorist group during the Iran–Iraq War. Dawa and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council are two of the main parties in the religious-Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, which won a plurality of seats in both the provisional January 2005 Iraqi election and the longer-term December 2005 election. The party is led by Nouri al-Maliki, who is also the current Prime Minister of Iraq. The party backed the Iranian Revolution and also Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during the Iran-Iraq War and the group still receives financial support from Tehran despite ideological differences with the Islamic Republic. In February 2007, journalists reported that Jamal Jaafar Muhammed, who was elected to the Iraqi parliament in 2005 as part of the SCIRI/Badr faction of the United Iraqi Alliance, was also sentenced to death in Kuwait for planning the al-Dawa bombings of the French and American embassies in that country in 1983. With the fall of Saddam, SCIRI quickly rose to prominence in Iraq, working closely with the other Shi'a parties. It gained popularity among Shi'a Iraqis by providing social services and humanitarian aid, following the pattern of Islamic organizations in other countries such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. SCIRI is alleged to receive weapons from Iran, and is often accused of being a proxy for Iranian interests. SCIRI's power base is in the Shi'a-majority southern Iraq. The council's armed wing, the Badr Organization, reportedly has had an estimated strength of between 4,000 and 10,000 men. Al-Sadr's plays within this realm using his supporters-The Sadrists-who were able to win 40 seats in the new 325-seat national parliament,  partly due to Iranian coaching on electoral strategy. They also played a key role in securing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's (also the secretary-general of the Islamic Dawa Party) reappointment. In return, they gained the deputy speakership of parliament and six medium-grade ministerial portfolios, including construction and housing, planning, labor and social affairs, and water and irrigation. In the longer run, al-Sadr may become a more important player: his sights are clearly fixed on eventual dominance of the Iraqi clerical establishment. He also still hopes to establish clerical rule in southern and central Iraq, borrowing from the velayat-e faqih model in Iran but with an Iraqi cleric -- presumably himself -- atop the structure. At some point, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's time as Iraq's senior cleric will come to an end, and Muqtada may seek to disrupt the selection of his successor from the traditional way. Iran has been playing a low key role thus far, but evidence of Iran/al-Sadr relationships are seen all over Iraq. For example, Iran has built a $150 million, 320-megawatt power plant, constructed on 25 acres in the Sadr City in northeastern Baghdad. Iran is also in negotiations with the Iraqi electricity ministry to install a natural gas pipeline between Iran and Iraq to feed the Sadr City power station and another in northern Baghdad. Iranian Deputy Energy Minister Mohammad Behzad said in February 2011 that Al Sadr power plant in Iraq is an important project. He said Iran's electricity export to Iraq will expand, adding that the Islamic republic plans to build eleven more power plant units and new transmission lines to the tune of 2 gigawatts in that country. Al-Sadr is a key jihadist to watch for, his political savvy has gained him a lot of influence, and with Iran's close ties to him, no matter how distant they try to make the relationship, Iran will be an influential force through al-Sadr in the new Iraq. It will be a matter of time before he gains the upper hand and comes into the spotlight in a more dangerous and unstoppable way.


References:
Londono, Ernesto (August 27, 2009). "Shiite leader's death roils Iran's politics". The San Francisco Chronicle.
Bakhash, Shaul, The Reign of the Ayatollahs Basic Books, c1984, p.233
"Jabar, Faleh A, Clerics, Tribes, Ideologues & Urban Dwellers in the South of Iraq: The Potential for Rebellion, in
Iraq at the Crossroads (eds Toby Dodge & Steven Simon), Adelphi Papers 354, IISS 2003
Moubayed, Sami (2007-12-18). "Iraq's Muqtada not quite Hezbollah mold". Asia Times Online. Retrieved 2008-03-27.
Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, (Norton, 2006), p.192
Moqtada Al-Sadr: Leader of orphans, Al-Ahram, 2004-06-02, accessed on 2007-01-21
Babak Dehghanpisheh (2008-01-19). "The Great Moqtada Makeover". Newsweek. Retrieved 2008-01-24.
Samer Bazzi - The Lebanese Armageddon in the New Iraq
Cole, Juan (2004-08-19). "What does Muqtada al-Sadr Want?". Informed Comment. Retrieved 2006-08-03.
Adams, Henry (2005-01-12). "'The U.S. is not preventing chaos in Iraq, it is creating it'". United for Peace of 
Pierce County, WA. Archived from the original on May 11, 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-03.
"Who's who in Iraq: Moqtada Sadr". BBC News. 2004-08-27. Retrieved 2006-08-03.
http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2011/02/09/iran_in_iraq_the_role_of_al-sadr_99386.html
http://www.payvand.com/news/11/may/1071.html
Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, (2006), p.117

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