Muqtada Renews call for US Departure
Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr, the young Shiite nationalist cleric, preached openly at Kufa before about 1,000 worshippers for the first time in many months on Friday, AFP reports in Arabic at Sawt al-Iraq He preached in his kafan, or burial shroud, a sign of defiance and willingness to be martyred. See the picture, here].
He said, “I renew my demand that the Occupation depart or set a timetable for withdrawal.”
He added, “I demand that the government not extend the Occupation even one day, since it has no authority to do so, especially after the signatures that were gathered from members of parliament and the million-man demonstration that came out to demand that [departure].”
On May 10, a majority of members of the Iraqi parliament signed a petition demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops and presented it to speaker of the house, Mahmud al-Mashhadani.
At the end of his sermon, Muqtada chanted “No, no to evil! No, no to America! No, no to Israel! No, no to Satan! No, no to colonialism!” and his congregation shouted the slogans with him.
Muqtada appears to have reemerged in public on assurances that he would not be arrested (or killed) by the US military if he did so.
He also condemned fighting between his Mahdi Army and Iraqi government security forces, saying that such clashes were deliberately set up as a trap by the United States. This charge is probably his way of trying to rein in the more extreme commanders in the Mahdi Army.
He comes back in public at a pregnant moment in Iraq, with his main rival, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, undergoing chemotherapy in Iran. Muqtada may see an opportunity to have his Sadr Movement displace al-Hakim’s SIIC. Al-Hakim visited the White House on Dec. 4, 2006, and called for US troops to remain in Iraq. Sadr’s demand for a timetable for withdrawal is much closer to Iraqi public opinion (and that of the public in the US, as well).
The al-Maliki government is also very weak and in danger of collapsing, and some think Muqtada is maneuvering to have the Sadrists form the next government.
Greater Sadrist political influence, which is Iraqi nationalist and even nativist, would put pressure on the Bush administration to set a timetable for withdrawal of troops.