Kurdish Dimension of Muqtada al-Sadr Crisis
It seems clear that Iraqi Shiite leaders such as Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum at the very least greenlighted the US attack on Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia. As the country prepares for elections this coming winter, these Shiite leaders who do not have nearly Muqtada’s following had to be afraid that he would do much better in open elections than they would. Having the Americans clear the decks for them seemed to them like a good idea.
It now appears to me that the Shiite leaders on the Interim Governing Council had allies in promoting the attack on the Sadrists among the Kurds. Muqtada al-Sadr has repeatedly called for a strong central government in Iraq and has denounced Kurdish plans for semi-autonomy. He also denounced Kurdish designs on the oil city of Kirkuk, and sent 2000 fighters up there to support the Arabs and Turkmen. Many Turkmen are Shiites and apparently many follow Muqtada al-Sadr.
So Muqtada has made himself unpopular among the Kurdish leadership. Evidence for this animosity was provided by BBC Monitoring, which translated an article from the Kurdish newspaper Khabat (Irbil, May 11) denouncing the Sadrists. Excerpts follow:
“HEADLINE: IRAQI KURDISH PAPER SAYS AL-SADR “PROBLEMS” NEEDS QUICK SOLUTION
“Text of article by Sami Shorish “Al-Sadr’s fire will possibly burn down Iraq and the region as well”, published by Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) newspaper Khabat on 11 May
“If what Muqtada al-Sadr is doing in Al-Najaf, Baghdad and Al-Amarah, is not thwarted with a pre-emptive act, it may kindle a huge fire not only in Iraq, but also in the entire region of the Gulf, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Have any of the rights of the Shi’is been usurped? Definitely, the same as an important proportion of the rights of the Kurdish people have been usurped in Iraq, and so far, despite all the sacrifices and sincerity of the Kurds, those rights have not been gained. Exactly in the same way, some of the rights of the Shi’is, Turkomans, Assyrians and Arabs have been usurped.
“It is important to be aware of the fact that it will be difficult to establish democracy, pluralism, and a civil society in the new Iraq unless all the constituents and all sides of the Iraqi community waive a part of their own rights and unless they head towards a sincere compromise. Iraq is a state that is founded on a number of legally crooked and fraudulent criteria . . .
“As we see, Al-Sistani [and] Al-Hakim* do not demand the state of the guardianship of jurisprudence [i.e. Khomeini’s theory of clerical rule]. As we see they are not keen on the formation of a religious state and an Islamic republic. As we see, to a certain extent they approve of federalism and the Kurds’ rights. These are true.
“However, the emergence of a phenomenon such as Muqtada al-Sadr is an obstacle in the way of reconciliation of the different sides within the Iraqi community. It is an impediment against heading towards the rhetoric of politics and peace to address the problems and difficulties. It impedes a mutual understanding between Kurds and Arabs, the Shi’is and Sunnis for a compatible life within the framework of a democratic state. For the above reasons, confrontation and standoff against Muqtada al-Sadr is not the duty only of the Americans, rather it is the duty of the Iraqis in the first place. Actually it is incumbent on the Shi’is and the Shi’i religious sources of emulation themselves before any other individual or group.”
*Actually I think al-Hakim does believe in clerical rule, along the lines of Khomeinism, but he is willing to wait for it, unlike Muqtada, who is impatient.