*Muqtada al-Sadr, 30, the leader of the popular Sadr Movement in Iraqi Shiism, gave an interview today to al-Hayat’s Hazim al-Amin in Najaf. He said that in the religious establishment of Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Sayyid Muhammad Sa`id al-Hakim, Shaykh Bashir al-Najafi, and Shaykh Muhammad al-Fayyad all supported one another and recognized that each was a legitimate object of emulation (marja` al-taqlid) for lay Shiites. He said they were all determined to stay out of secular politics, and that since all were ultimately of Iranian extraction, they had little reason to be concerned with broader Iraqi society. Muqtada insists that the leadership of the Iraqi Shiites should be invested in native Iraqis, not in Iranians living in Najaf.
In contrast to Najaf quietism, it was supporters of Muqtada who organized the protest in Baghdad last Tuesday that demanded clerical oversight over any new Iraqi government. Muqtada said he believed in the general guardianship of the cleric, but said that the supreme jurisprudent would be different in Iraq than in Iran. (That is, he is saying that he accepts Khomeini’s theory of the guardianship of the jurisprudent or theocracy, but does not accept the authority in Iraq of Iranian supreme jurisprudent Ali Khamenei). Muqtada also rejected the idea of cooperating with the Americans in establishing a new government, saying he and the Sadr Movement would have nothing to do with such a process until the Americans left the country. On the other hand, he denounced attacks on American troops as the work of Baathists and as a form of sabotage of the country, and said no permission had been given to engage in them by the [Shiite] religious authority.
Al-Sadr’s spokesman, Adnan al-Shahmani, was even more open and vehement about the need for an Iraqi object of emulation. He said there has been rapid turnover in the Najaf leadership in the recent period, and most objects of emulation have been Iranians. Iraqis, he said, need a leadership attuned to their specific circumstances. He also admitted that the Sadr Movement in Baghdad and elsewhere had been involved in forcibly shutting down video stores, liquor stores and other establishments (which offended the puritan moralism of the movement). But he said that such actions had been spontaneous and local, and were not being directed from the Sadr office in Najaf.
The Sadr Movement is by far the most widespread and popular among religious Iraqi Shiites. The reporter, al-Amin, contends that Sistani and Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, the spiritual leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), have moved closer to one another. Both are Iranians, and both wish to oppose the Sadr Tendency in Iraq. Al-Amin’s analysis seems to me to take ethnicity too seriously and at too much of a face value. Lots of Iraqi Shiites have deep respect for Sistani and al-Hakim. Sistani and al-Hakim don’t appear to me to agree on much, given that Sistani is a political quietist and al-Hakim is a political activist. It may be that they have talked about how to rein in the Sadr Movement, which limits the power of both.
*The NYT is alleging that the militia in Majar al-Kabir is made up of Badr Corps (the paramilitary of SCIRI). I am not entirely convinced that this is the case. The main pieces of evidence instanced were that they were trained by Revolutionary Guards and that they said they acted under orders from the religious establishment in Najaf. But Iraqi Hizbullah of the Marsh Arabs were also often trained in Iran, and all Iraqi Shiites would at least claim to be under the authority of Najaf. If the Badr Corps really do have this kind of position in Majar, then they are very likely to have been involved in the rpg attacks on British paratroopers on this past Tuesday.