Thursday, June 21, 2007

Muqtada Atari Goes to the Next Level

How did a fat-bellied, mossy-toothed, slow-witted video-game addict become the leader of a sizable segment of the Shia population in Iraq?

Hohammed (Last of Iraqis) has just produced an excellent overview of Muqtada Al-Sadr's rise to prominence among the Shia faithful. How did he become the hottest ticket on the Friday-sermon, rabble-rouser circuit? Some argue, you see, that he is simply a matinee idol for thieves, thugs, and malcontents with a taste for blood. What is notable in hindsight is how quickly the moon-faced Muqtada Al-Sadr pounced to remove his competition for the keys of the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, a source of not only prestige among the Shia but also considerable cash flow coming through the donations box.

On April 10, 2003, one day after Iraqis pummeled the metal head of Saddam Hussein with the bottoms of their shoes and sandals, a frenzied group outside the shrine in Najaf attacked Muqtada's rival, Imam Abdul Majid al-Khoei. Mohammed describes what happened:
[Al-Khoei's] support for the Ba'athist Raifee was used as a pretext for his murder by a Shi'a mob.Witnesses have said that they were confronted at the mosque by an angry mob, some of whom shouted "Raifee is back". They called him an "animal" and threatened to beat him with their sandals (a traditional Iraqi insult.) According to reports, al-Khoei fired his pistol in the air to get the crowd to back off. However, rather than retreating, the angry crowd surged at al-Khoei, Raifee, and the nearby civilians. The mob killed Raifee with bayonets and knives; al-Khoei was chased down and killed in an alley near the headquarters of al-Sadr, not far from the mosque where Raifee had died only a few minutes beforehand.Muqtada al-Sadr claims that the murderers were not his followers, and that he in fact sent men to prevent al-Khoei's murder. The al-Sadr family sent and published official condolences to the al-Khoei family , but it's clear to everyone that Muqtada is responsible . The initial warrant against al-Sadr produced after U.S. forces decided to shut down his newspaper, Al-Hawza Al-Natika (Speaking Hawza), alleged that members of the mob claimed to be there on al-Sadr's orders, and that he had instructed them not to kill al-Khoei inside the mosque. Al-Khoei's close followers did not blame al-Sadr for the murder (the wanted to prevent any disturbance might happen and some say they were concerned about their safety) , but instead publicly blamed former Ba'ath party members who also hated al-Khoei (in complete contradiction of his kindness to Raifee).
This would simply be the first time that Muqtada Al-Sadr used violence to get what he wanted. Since then, it has happened again and again as a way for Muqtada Al-Sadr to recruit support to himself and as a way of taking out any other competition, whether that be other Shia leaders or Coalition forces.

Mohammed brings Muqtada's career from his Dad's doorman to Shia poster-boy up-to-date and is well worth your time.

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