No. of Recommendations: 8
Just four months ago, al-Sadr first emerged and was apparently seen (at least here) as a “fly” to be swatted away and a “small player” who didn't have a large following. Yet, now, as the insurgency continues, apparently unabated despite the hundreds of insurgents killed by U.S. and Coalition troops, al-Sadr has now urged his followers to fight after he is dead (he said yesterday that he'd fight til his last drop of blood). I've never thought that you could minimize the power inherent in a charismatic religious leader, especially in a place like Iraq and among the Shi'a majority (or Iran…see Ayatollah Khomeni).

So now in Najaf, U.S. and Coalition forces are in a pitched battle very close to a Muslim Holy site (the Imam Ali Shrine)...and inflammatory situation at best. Any damage to the shrine might have far reaching implications to achieving peace in Iraq.

This is still playing out as this post appears. Whether or not al-Sadr was killed in the attack on his house or not, I'd expect the insurgency to continue, and maybe even intensify if he is killed or the Shrine is damaged.

U.S. Planes, Forces Attack Sadr's House in Najaf
Thu Aug 12, 2004 09:06 AM ET
There was no immediate word on whether the cleric was at the house.

Who is Muqtada al-Sadr?
How has Muqtada al-Sadr gained so much attention?
Believed to be about 30 years old, al-Sadr is the son of a grand ayatollah with a mission.

The firebrand cleric was little known outside Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion. Now with fighters loyal to him holed up in Najaf's Imam Ali Mosque -- the most holy place in Shiite Islam -- he has become the focal point of anti-American sentiment.

U.S. misstep in Najaf could bring more resentment
The U.S.-led battle to put the Shiite Muslim city of Najaf back under the control of Iraq's new government is a high-stakes operation that could provoke wider resistance, even if it's a military success.

For the past week, U.S. forces, in support of the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, have been rooting out militiamen loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. The cleric and his supporters want to force the U.S.-led military coalition out of Iraq, undermine Iraqi government control and seize power in key Shiite areas.

"The greatest vulnerability we have is to turn the mass of the Shia (Shiite) population against the coalition," retired Army general Daniel Christman says. "We can win every tactical battle but lose the war if we don't put the individual engagements inside a larger political context." Etc.

High stakes at Najaf
The fighting in Najaf between US forces and the Shia militia of Moqtada Sadr has been going on now for over a week and looks to be intensifying.

…The radical cleric is seen by both the interim Iraqi government and the Americans as posing a major challenge to the political process in the country.

Many other Shia leaders are also suspicious of his ambitions…

…If this goes wrong - supposing there were major damage to the mosque or massive civilian casualties - the credibility of not just the Americans but of the Iraqi prime minister himself would be on the line.
Mr Sadr's men have shown themselves to be determined and effective fighters.

April 7, 2004
72714 - Deepening Trouble in Iraq
Fighting in Iraq Presents Test for U.S.
Fighting between coalition forces and Shiite Muslim militiamen across a wide swath south of Baghdad presents a major test of the resolve of America's partners to stay the course in Iraq.

The mounting unrest, triggered by the U.S. crackdown on firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, will also test the American strategy of avoiding traditional alliances and international institutions in favor of "coalitions of the willing" in a military conflict.

April 9, 2004
72942 - al-Sadr Poster Appears
A year to the day after Marines toppled Saddam Hussein's statue in Firdos Square, a poster of al-Sadr was attached Friday to an unfinished bronze monument at...
On the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, an American soldier removes posters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr that were hanging today on a statue on Firdos Square in Baghdad, Iraq. One year ago, U.S. soldiers pulled down Saddam Hussein's statue from this very place.

April 9, 2004
72993 – al-Sadr Poster Appears
al-Sadr is young, charismatic and a Shi'ite...he is outspoken...revolutions have been started by fewer "supporters" when led by charismatic leaders. I wouldn't underestimate the effect of clerics like al-Sadr causing disruptions up to and after the turn-over of control to the secular Iraqi government.

(*) Powell Sees Signs of Sunni-Shi'ite Tactical Contact
Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday cited signs of tactical contact between Sunnis and Shi'ites fighting U.S. forces in Iraq but no grand alliance as he tried to put the best face on a "tough week."

...Asked if the Sunnis and Shi'ites were cooperating to fight U.S. forces, he replied: "There might be some tactical-level contact between the two. There's been some evidence of that. But over the last 24 hours, I have seen nothing to suggest that there is some great alliance that's forming."

[Even though Powell cautions that he doesn't see the aliiance going beyond a tactical one, I hope no one is underestimating the implications of something more broad occurring.]

Aside from the above, one has to be concerned about the appeal of al-Sadr to other radical Muslims in the region, his ability to become a firebrand, and the possibility that al Qaeda could use al-Sadr as a power-focus to upset the turn over of political control, not only on July 1, but afterwards.

The Tehran Factor In Iraq's Shi'ite Uprising
EDITOR'S NOTE: When the Americans issued an arrest warrant for Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq they might have inadvertently opened the way for Iran to take a more open role in who gets to call the shots among Iraq's majority Shi'ite population.

When Iran's influential former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani recently hailed the Shi'ite Muslim militia of wanted Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as "heroic," he might have been signaling that Iran is finally coming out from behind the scenes in the confrontation between the U.S. and al-Sadr that has left dozens dead...

...The answer might lie in Tehran which has huge influence on the Shi'ites in Iraq. The Shi'ites in Iran are not unified. They can be divided into two groups - the moderates and hardliners. The moderates who want to work with the United States are led by Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim who is a member of the Iraqi Governing Council. The hardliners, led by the likes of Muqtada al-Sadr, are opposed to the coalition forces and make no secret about wanting the Americans to leave Iraq.

April 13, 2004
73178 - al-Sadr - Dead or Alive (Aide Seized)?
Al-Sadr Aide Arrested As U.S. Troops Mass In Al-Najaf
Baghdad, 13 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A top aide to radical Shi'ite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was arrested today in Baghdad, as U.S. troops gathered on the outskirts of the holy city of Al-Najaf, where al-Sadr is believed to be based.

US troops seize Sadr aide,2763,1190932,00.html
· Imam 'held for questioning'
· Mahdi Army retreats
· Russian hostages released

Who Is Moqtada Sadr?

Sadr militia pulls back in compromise
A militia loyal to radical cleric Moqtada Sadr withdrew from some government buildings in Iraq Tuesday, easing tensions with coalition forces opposing them.

But even as the Mehdi Army -- which had occupied large parts of Baghdad, Kufa, Kerbala and Najaf -- stood down and was replaced by Iraqi forces, tensions continued between Sadr and the U.S.-led coalition, which has vowed to "capture or kill" him.
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