Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Educated Shia Condemn Sadrists

Radical movement’s attacks on senior clergy seen as contradicting calls for unity.
By Hussein Ali

While charismatic preacher Muqtada al-Sadr might be a hero to a good number of young and poor Shia for his defiance of the Coalition, many of their older and middle-class co-religionists condemn his movement for causing divisions within their community.


In particular, middle-class Shia object to the movement's newspaper al-Hawza, whose closure helped trigger an April uprising across Iraq.


Ever since Coalition troops shut down the title in late March, curious Iraqis have snapped up back issues of what was formerly a fairly limited-circulation weekly.


Reading through them, they claim to have discovered attacks on senior scholars, which they say contradict Sadr’s public calls for Shia unity.


"When we started reading the back issues, we found many strange things written between the lines," said surgeon Ahmed Nasser, 45. "I found that it seeks disunity among Shia…There is a big contrast between what is published in the paper, and what [the Sadrists] declare on TV."


Kadhim Haider, 39, a teacher at al-Khowarnek secondary school, keeps a clipping of an article which suggests that many senior clergy are foreigners who do not take an interest in the lives of ordinary Iraqis.


"The basements of Najaf, cool in the summer and warm in winter, house scholars who are Persian, Afghani, and Pakistani, along with Iraqis who prefer not to appear in front of the public," the article says.


Several of Iraq's senior scholars - including Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Sayydi Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani – are foreigners.


For some Shia, such criticism of senior clergy justifies the US crackdown on the Sadr militants and their newspaper.


"The Shia benefit from the closure of the paper as it writes against our Marjeeya[ religious leadership],” said Ali Jaffar, 35, an engineer.


"Muqtada's followers claim that they are [loyal] to the marjaeya in Najaf, but they write the opposite in their newspaper."


Although hostility to al-Hawza is most marked among professional Shia, some working class members of the faith also support the closure of the title.


"If the paper was still issued, it might cause a civil war among the Shia themselves," said a day labourer. "It is great to have the paper closed. We thank the occupying forces."


Hussein Ali is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.


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