Portrait of a Rebellion
In These Times has made my analysis of the Shiite rebellion of the past two months available online. It came out about a week ago and so before the recent “truce,” but is still valuable for a narrative of the background.
In these Times
May 24, 2004
“Portrait of a Rebellion
Shiite insurgency in Iraq bedevils U.S.”
By Juan Cole
The Great Uprising of early April 2004 boiled along into May, leaving Iraq in continued turmoil. The Bush administration unwisely provoked rebellions in both Fallujah and Najaf (and other southern Shiite towns) by deciding to put down small symbolic acts of defiance with massive force. In Fallujah, Geroge W. Bush ordered the American military to retreat from that Sunni Arab city and to rehabilitate the Baathist forces once associated with Saddam Hussein to help restore order. Yet in Najaf, Bush has been unyielding in his determination to arrest or kill the young radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and destroy his militia. That determination could tip the Shiite south into long-term instability.
Given the drumbeat of bombings and assassinations, most recently of Izzedine Salim, president of the interim government of Iraq, the country cannot take much more instability. The transfer of sovereignty scheduled for June 30 is not in doubt, since it simply requires some appointments and paperwork. But endowing the new government with any popular support and political reality will be difficult if the country is in flames. By mid-May, the Najaf home of the preeminent mainstream Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, was being sprayed by machine gun fire from unknown assailants. This raises the specter of his loss to assassination, as well, which could further radicalize the Shiites.
Al-Sadr, 30, inherited a large and active Shiite dissident movement from his father, who, under the nose of Saddam Hussein, had established it in the Shiite slums of the southern cities. The Baath Party found it difficult to penetrate and control the teeming ghetto of East Baghdad, allowing the Sadrist organization to flourish there. In 1999, Saddam had Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, Muqtada’s father, killed along with Muqtada’s two older brothers. Muqtada Al-Sadr went underground and emerged over the next four years as a new, sectarian leader of Iraq’s dispossessed, guided by an ideology that differed little from that of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, his father’s teacher.