Muqtada’s Newspaper Reopens
Al-Hawzah, the newspaper of the radical young Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, will be allowed to publish again. The decision was taken by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi after the newspaper’s staff approached his government. The Americans had closed the newspaper in March, as a prelude to their failed attempt to arrest Muqtada and crush his movement. (They did kill some 1500 of his fighters and pushed them back out of control of some key cities, but Muqtada’s cadres are still numerous and his movement continues to thrive).
Quotes from The Guardian from al-Hawzah’s editor, Ali Yasseri on the US closing of the newspaper and the attitude of the current caretaker Iraqi government:
[Of the Americans:] “I told them that they were making a mistake, and that if you close al-Hawza you will open 10 voices in its place.”
Asked if he feared the new Iraqi government might also ban the weekly, Mr Yasseri replied: “I didn’t expect the American administration would be so stupid. We have seen American freedom and democracy and we don’t think the Iraq government will do the same thing. They have to have the consent and blessing of the Iraqi people.”
Allawi is clearly attempting to bring Muqtada and his movement in from the cold, and have them play a role in Iraqi civil and political society. The hope is that since the stick failed, perhaps carrots will be more successful. But if Muqtada continues to think of his group as rejectionist, and continues to rely on violence and thuggery as his main political tools, there could well be a showdown between him and Allawi (or Allawi’s successor) in the future.
Addendum 7/19/04 12:35 pm: Ash-Sharq al-Awsat: Other observers saw the move to reauthorize the newspaper as part of a negotiation with Muqtada’s movement aimed at deterring them from attacking US forces. Some among the Sadrists have been arguing that now is the time to strike at the US military, in a bid to end the occupation and force it out of Iraq. Reuters got hold of a tape recording of a small armed group of Sadrists speaking of the need to hit the US, along with planning for attacks on liquor and video stores, so as to end the state of chaos– with bombings, kidnappings and other criminal acts–into which the US had plunged Iraq. Officials of the US and the caretaker Iraqi government are apparently holding the threat of prosecution over Muqtada’s head as a way of deterring such a course of action, but apparently small groups of armed Sadrists are planning out such operations without close consultation with him.
Addendum 7/19/04 6:06 pm: Karbalanews.net reports that Muqtada al-Sadr appeared in public in Najaf for the first time in two months on Friday. He was escorted by his militiamen in a procession from his office in the city to the shrine of Imam Ali.
Muqtada dissociated himself from the sentiments of his Friday prayer leader at the al-Muhsin Mosque in Sadr City, which were sharply critical of Iran. Shaikh Aws al-Khafaji had lambasted Iran as one source of instability in Iraq. Muqtada said that he did not share Khafaji’s views, and that Iran was among the supporters of the Iraqi people.
Iran’s government tends to support the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who made a visit to Tehran recently. SCIRI is a competitor of Muqtada’s for influence among Iraq’s Shiites.