Friday, February 16, 2007

Who is Muqtada al-Sadr?

In a week in which rumours have been flying about Sadr's decamping to greater safety in Iran, Patrick Cockburn analyses his importance to the future of Iraq

As Iraq dissolves into civil war, few men wield more power on its bloodstained streets than Muqtada al-Sadr. In just four years, his potent blend of Shia nationalism, enforced by the 70,000-strong Mehdi Army, has made him a hero to millions - and put him top of America's hit list. But does the future rest in his hands? Patrick Cockburn reports

Whatever else the US intended when it invaded Iraq in 2003 it was not to hand power to an Islamic militant in a black turban with dark staring eyes who denounces Washington and Israel in the same breath. The claim by two American officials yesterday that Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia nationalist cleric, has left for Iran is a measure of how far the US would like to see him out of the Iraqi political scene.

Allegations by US officials in Baghdad have little credibility after almost four years in which they have been repeatedly exposed as untrue. Supporters of Muqtada immediately denied that he was in Iran and either refused to say where he was or asserted that he was in the Shia holy city of Najaf. He has every reason to keep his location a secret, since in the past the US military has said it will either kill or capture him if it can. Two of his most important aides have been killed in mysterious circumstances in the past week.

To see the full article please click on the title

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