Muqtada Press Conference: “No Ordinary Politics Under Occupation”
The one-day truce in Najaf has collapsed. And, even the council of tribal chieftains in the Middle Euphrates, a previously pro-American group, has issued a statement condemning the “barbaric massacres perpetrated by the United States in Najaf,” according to al-Jazeerah’s crawl.
Just saw a long press conference with Muqtada al-Sadr on Saturday on al-Jazeerah (an “exclusive.”) Although its Baghdad bureau is closed, al-Jazeerah still gets lots of video from Iraq and apparently can use local stringers to report from the scene. They also do telephone interviews.
Muqtada declared that “Najaf has triumphed over imperialism and imperial hubris” (al-isti`mar wa al-istikbar). Like Bush, Muqtada is extremely clever in using rhetoric that identifies his interests with those of his people. He has represented the stand-off around the shrine of Imam Ali as a “victory” of “Najaf” over the US Marines. In essence, he has made himself stand for Najaf. No one should underestimate the power of a proclamation such as “Najaf has triumphed over imperialism” in the Muslim world. Hndreds of his fighters were summarily blown away by the US military, which has taken most of the city (reducing some of it to rubble and repeatedly bombing a sacred cementery) and surrounded the Mahdi Army in the shrine. You would think that people would laugh at this situation being called “a triumph of Najaf.” But no one is laughing, and in fact there are pro-Muqtada demonstrations all over Iraq, including in the hard line Sunni areas (!), and insurgencies. Indeed, there have been big demonstrations in Iran, Bahrain and Pakistan as well as in Iraq.
Muqtada said that there can be no ordinary politics under Occupation. He said Najaf must be free of all Occupation and of the authority of collaborators with the Occupation, and must be purely Shiite territory at the disposition of the leading Shiite authorities. (Actually, probably Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani would agree with him in most of this, but would just argue that it shouldn’t be accomplished by military confrontation with the US military, which is doomed to fail).
Muqtada said that calling Iyad Allawi (he didn’t mention him by name) a “Shiite” was like calling Saddam Hussein a “Muslim.” Muqtada implied that the US Occupation had an ulterior motive of ensuring the hegemony of Secular Humanism in Muslim Iraq. (He should alert Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to this plot, he might pick up allies).
He revealed that he had asked interim Vice President Ibrahim Jaafari, a leader of the Shiite al-Dawa Party, to resign from the government, but that Jaafari had declined. (Jaafari is among the few figures in the caretaker government who represents a substantial political party and has favorability ratings in polls above 50%, and he has been bitterly critical of the American assault on Najaf.)