ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Al-Sadr: Part of the Revolutionary Puzzle 30.8.04

Al-Sadr: Part of the Revolutionary Puzzle

30 August 2004

By Yisrael Ne'eman

The young hard line rebel Shi’ite cleric Moktada al-Sadr is playing his cards carefully. The ultimate objective is to lead Iraq to a militant Shi’ite state, Khomeini style. His opportunity arose with Saddam Hussein’s downfall and replacement by an American occupation and the pro-west interim Allawi government. Now he could battle true imperial forces and rally the Moslem world around his call to liberate Iraq and its holy shrines, especially the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf.

When the aging moderate leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani stepped in and saved al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army (more of a militia) he had to bow to the pressures of consensus surrounding the aura and respect for the aging cleric and quit his battle against the Americans. Not only was he relieved, but his stature climbed as the ailing al-Sistani flew back from medical treatment abroad to guarantee al-Sadr’s survival. Najaf is now to be under the protection of the civil forces of the interim government with everyone understanding the emphasis on the term “interim”.

The Shi’ite zones are perceived as being momentarily pacified, but even this is incorrect as oil pipelines continue to be destroyed in southern Iraq and the Sadr City slums (named for al-Sadr’s father) are hot beds of anti-government activity. The Sunni areas are in an uproar, especially in Falluja and Ramadi. The revolt is led by Abdullah al-Janabi, a Taliban influenced cleric whose “Unity and Holy War” adherents are said to be working closely with Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, an al-Qaeda leader and close associate of Osama bin Laden (The New York Times – “In Western Iraq Fundamentalists hold USA at Bay” – Aug. 30, 2004).

Al-Sadr gained massive publicity, was not captured and most importantly, kept his weapons and organization. Having accepted a cease-fire, even if some of his followers are still shooting, he may now fit into the role of a “moderate” and let self-deluding westerners cast him in the role of a future politician. He has been advised to run for office in Iraq’s first democratic elections to be held in the winter of 2005, should there be enough stability. One should not expect al-Sadr to join the democratic process, only to be shackled by its rules and never-ending negotiations over everything. Rather he will bide his time and regain military strength.

He knows that Hassan Nasrallah and Hizbollah in Lebanon exercise enormous power without being integral to the democratic process. They are however, the only armed political faction. The same goes for the Palestinian Islamic militant Hamas and Jihad who boycotted the 1996 elections. Leading the “armed struggle” they are among the leading terror forces aligned against Israel.

The Americans will leave Iraq, most likely sooner, rather than later, and the Bush-Kerry election will have little, if any impact. An interim government (Allawi or otherwise) will last a short while after the American withdrawal and then give way to a form of moderate Shi’ite leadership, either in conjunction with the Sunnis or not. The Iranian supported radical Islamicists will follow the transitional “rule of the moderates” and it is here that al-Sadr’s Shi’ite militants and their Sunni counterparts can be expected to begin their rule, either together or separately.

Such is the way of revolution (Napoleon France, Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Maoist China, Khomeini’s Iran, etc.) from instability and chaos, to ramshackle interim solutions, to moderate regimes and culminating in the rule of the radicals. And radicals have a tendency to “export” their revolutions, sharing and enlightening the world with their new-found messianic answers (be they secular or religious).

Previously one could expect threats from neighboring states and armies. Those threatened could define the strategic dangers in conventional terms. The US and the West will find themselves back to square one, but possibly in a more precarious position as a Baghdad-Tehran axis will prove a much more formidable enemy in battling world terrorism, than the Afghan Taliban – al-Qaeda alliance.

Moktada al-Sadr is only one piece in the extremist Islamist puzzle, but he and others like him may very well be the catalyst for the major confrontation with the West.