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Sadr Group Seeks Role

He may not have supported elections, but radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr wants a say in future policymaking.
By Zaid Ali

A representative of radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has said he expects his movement to play a role in government, although not a direct one.

“The new Iraqi government and the new National Assembly will certainly not forget the Sadrist movement, and they will have it participating in the governance and building of a new Iraq,” said Sheikh Sahib Ubaid al-Amiri, who represents al-Sadr in the holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq.

Al-Sadr discouraged his followers from participating in the January 30 poll, saying a fair election was impossible while United States troops remained in Iraq. However, some of them nevertheless ran, on the candidate list of the National Independent Elites and Cadres party.

The cleric’s insistence that a timetable be set for Coalition forces to withdraw stymied negotiations with the United Iraqi Alliance, the candidate list sponsored by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Despite their past differences, al-Amiri said the Sadr movement supports the United Iraqi Alliance and wishes it success.

Wahab Sharif, a spokesman for the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a leading party in the Shia-led alliance, reciprocated, saying Sadrist participation would be welcome.

“They have a role in the new Iraqi government, because it is a wide-reaching movement and it has an impact on the Iraqi street,” said Sharif. He added, “We don’t believe in anyone being absent from the Iraqi political scene.”

Al-Amiri said the Sadrist group still had the capacity to mobilise large numbers of people if needed. “Our influential position is in the Iraqi street, as the Sadrist movement flows up from the street and from the people themselves,” he said.

Al-Sadr’s mix of Iraqi nationalism and Shia radicalism has found fertile ground among large numbers of poor Shias. Although a junior cleric, he inherited a strong power base from his father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, a senior cleric who was assassinated in 1999 after opposing former president Saddam Hussein.

The junior al-Sadr has flexed his muscles more than once. He led two violent uprisings against US forces in 2003, and has used his pulpit to issue fiery sermons criticising interim prime minister Ayad Allawi.

But al-Amiri insisted al-Sadr’s most recent directives display a new line, a “commitment to quietness”. That marks a shift away from his firebrand past as leader of the “vocal hawza”. (The hawza are Shia theological schools.)

Al-Sadr has openly criticised al-Sistani, a revered figure in Iraq, for being part of the “silent hawza” which opposes mixing politics and religion.

Zaid Ali is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.

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