Sadrists Have Some Tribal Support in Southern Cities
I often get asked by journalists and others whether Muqtada al-Sadr should be taken seriously, or whether he is just a young punk with some ruffians around him, as the Najaf religious elite maintains. His competitors include Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. One informed observer in Iraq says, “The majority of Shiites I ask say they look first towards Sistani for guidance, but I do not know what that means since he is not organized olitically on the ground.. Arab journalists have suggested that Sistani’s support is strongest among the middle aged and elderly, and among the middle classes.
Another of Muqtada’s competitors is the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which has a paramilitary oganization, the Badr Corps. These are led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who was in Tehran in exile for two decades but is now back and has a seat on the Interim Governing Council.
Muqtada was backed earlier this year by Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri, who lives in exile in Qom, though there were rumors that the two had broken off relations in July. Al-Haeri led the clerical wing of the al-Da`wa Party and may come back to Iraq eventually, as a power in his own right.
My firm impression from everything I’ve seen is that Muqtada and his followers, the Sadrists, are a force to reckon with. They are perhaps dominant in East Baghdad, population 2-3 million. They have serious strength in the poorer parts of Basra. Since 25% of Basrans are said to favor an Islamic republic, I suspect a lot of those are Sadrists. Because Muqtada has many followers among the young slum dwellers of Baghdad, his ideas are spreading through them to the countryside. Many of the families in East Baghdad are recent immigrants, and retain tribal ties and loyalties. One Arab journalist wrote this summer of the way that a Sadrist youth went back to his village to meet with his tribal shaikh, and converted the shaikh to Sadrism. An observer in Iraq confirms that this sort of movement is afoot. He writes that a:
“sheik from Amara says that SCIRI has no support in Amarah and that his tribesmen consider the Badr Corps Iranian mercs. I heard that most of the Badr Corps in Najaf speak Farsi, not Arabic (although everyone says Najaf and Karbala are calm). The border with Iran is not secure, anyone can come and go as they like (many carjacked SUVs end up in Iran). His tribesmen in Amarah and Saddam/Sadr city almost universally support Muqtada al-Sadr. I asked him what would happen if Kazim Ha’eri returned from Qom and there was a split between him and Moqtada al-Sadr. He said everyone in Amarah and his tribesmen in Sadr City would back Moqtada al-Sadr, despite his age and learning, because of his father.”
Muqtada demands an immediate US departure and seeks an Iran-style Islamic Republic in Iraq.