Some Two Million Shiites Live In

Some two million Shiites live in eastern Baghdad, and several factions are jockeying for influence with them. Press reports of local Shiite clerics in Baghdad organizing neighborhood militias to restore order after the looting of the weekend of April 11-12 quoted them as loyal either to the Najaf establishment (mainly Muqtada al-Sadr) or to al-Da`wa.

They have renamed the Baghdad Shiite slum, Saddam City, “Sadr City,” and it is patrolled by about 5,000 to 6,000 armed men under the direction of the mosques. One report said that Shiite gunmen loyal to al-Sadr in Najaf had chased off Badr Brigade militiamen sent by the Tehran-based al-Hakims of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq to infiltrate Sadr City. One Shaikh Ala’a of Sadr City warned Chalabi’s ‘Free Iraqi Forces’ not to come to the eastern quarter. ‘There are a million men with guns who support Muqtada al-Sadr.’ He said Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr had shown the way to an Islamic state.

In Sadr City on Friday April 18 Shaikh Muhammad Fartusi preached the Friday sermon at the al-Hikma Mosque to an estimated 50,000-strong congregation in the mosque and on surrounding streets. He had been sent to eastern Baghdad by the Najaf religious establishment to take charge (he follows Sistani but most of his congregation are Sadriyun). His guards patrolled with machine guns. He announced that Shiites would not accept a kind of democracy “that allows Iraqis to say what they want but gives them no say in their destiny. This form of government would be worse than that of Saddam Hussein.” He said Shiites should follow the instructions of the senior ayatollahs. The report said he “spelled out a code of conduct including a ban on music, mandatory veils for women and the primacy of Islamic over tribal law.”

Although Fartusi did not mention the US directly, the tenor of his remarks showed impatience with the Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz plans to guide the formation of a new government over a period of two years or more. His fundamentalist program has the potential of provoking conflicts with urban middle class Sunnis, with professional women, and with even Shiite tribes, many of whom are proud of tribal traditions that are not Islamic.

Also on Friday, April 19, about 100 Shiite clerics met at a mosque in Sadr City to discuss security and aid for the capital’s Shiites. Early reports suggested that radicals attempted to take control of the meeting in a power play for authority over Sadr City. The identity of the radicals was not reported, but there are so many possibilities–Sadriyun, al-Da`wa, SCIRI, etc., etc.