*Craig Smith of the New York Times has reported very interesting and significant developments in the Sadr Movement in Iraq. It appears that the movement has now recognized Shaikh Kazim al-Haeri as its ultimate spiritual head. He is an older Ayatollah with the authority to issue authoritative rulings, and he favors a Khomeinist style government in Iraq. He recognized Muqtada al-Sadr as his deputy in Iraq. Al-Sadr is enormously popular but is only in his late twenties or at most 30, and does not have the standing to issue fatwas or rulings for the laity. He had earlier been insisting that people follow the rulings of his deceased father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who had been assassinated by the Baathists. But in the Usuli Shiism that predominates in Iraq, it is not permissible to follow the rulings of a deceased jurisprudent. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Muqtada’s rival, had circulated a criticism to that effect some weeks ago. In response, Muqtada appears to have secretly reached out to Ayatollah Kazim Haeri, still in Iran. He received the appointment as Haeri’s deputy around April 8 and was told to cut off the Saddamists and the second-rung Saddamists. This instruction may have had something to do with the killing of American-backed cleric Abd al-Majid Khu’i on April 10. For some time, Muqtada’s links to Haeri had been kept secret. Now they are being openly revealed and members of the Sadr Movement are displaying Haeri’s picture through Najaf and eastern Baghdad. It now transpires that Shaykh Muhammad Fartusi, sermonizer at the al-Hikmah mosque, had been sent there not by Sistani but by Haeri. He was arrested Monday and detained briefly by US troops because they found a handgun in his car as he returned to Baghdad from Najaf. (Khu’i is also said to have been armed with a hand gun. Bush finally got his wish–he is now in a cowboy movie, set in Iraq, with the ayatollahs playing the sheriffs and outlaws!) Fartusi’s detention sparked demonstrations by thousands of Shiites and the intervention of the other clerics induced the US to release him. He is openly contemptuous of the US, and told an interviewer from Dubai he was beaten and that the US detention was worse that the sort Saddam used to practice.. His leader, Kazim Haeri, wants a Khomeini-style Islamic republic in Iraq. The combination of Haeri’s authority and seniority with Muqtada’s cult of personality may prove powerful among the poor Shiites of Iraq.
*US Marines have induced Sayyid Abbas Fadil to vacate the mayor’s mansion in Kut. A member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), he had moved in to Kut and claimed to be its mayor, supported by an armed retinue of returning Iraqi expatriates from Iran. The first attempt of the Marines to move against him was blocked by an angry crowd of 1200. The Marines recently gave Sayyid Abbas an ultimatum. He has in the past said that he could as easily control the people of Kut from a mosque as from city hall, and would not be deterred by the Americans. So, the Marines won one, symbolically. But where will popular loyalties in Kut (a city of over 300,000) lie in the long run? Will the mob eventually reassemble against them? They have recently been fired on. In the nearby city of Baquba, pop. about 400,000, a SCIRI government has been installed; there are no Marines in the city. Badr Brigade militiamen patrol the streets. An earlier report said that there were also Faili Kurds among them.
*The Independent reported local Iraqi reaction to Donald Rumsfeld’s rejection of a Shiite theocracy in Iraq from the al-Muhsin Mosque in east Baghdad, where 13000 worshippers had gathered:
‘ “I thought the Americans said they wanted a democracy in Iraq,” said Kassem al-Sa’adi, a 41-year-old merchant. “If it is a democracy, why are they allowed to make the rules?” About 13,000 people gathered outside the mosque where the imam, Jabal al-Khafji called for an Islamic state in Iraq. The cleric’s view is widely shared by Iraq’s Shia majority which is clamouring for the occupying forces to be removed. ‘