Muqtada Wounded by US Bombing
Muqtada al-Sadr was wounded by US bombardment of Najaf on Friday morning, according to Reuters.
Sadr spokesman Ahmad al-Shinabi told Reuters, “Sayyed Moqtada was wounded in American bombing. He suffered three injuries to his body.” The wounds are not considered life threatening, and are being treated at the Imam Ali Mosque.
Sadr is quoted as telling followers, “Act wisely, don’t surrender to emotions.”
‘ But the news could trigger an eruption of violence from Iraq’s majority Shi’ite community, where there is growing anger at the U.S. offensive near the country’s holiest Shi’ite sites even from those who scorn Sadr’s radical views. ‘
Note that al-Shinabi called him “Sayyid” Muqtada. A Sayyid is a putative descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Sayyids have a special status in Muslim societies, and even moreso in Shiite Islam. Tribesman see Sayyids as almost magical purveyors of blessings from God.
Muqtada al-Sadr is not just any Sayyid. He is the son of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who is almost universally idolized for his strong stance in the mid- to -late 1990s against Saddam Hussein, who had him killed in Najaf in 1999. The Americans and the Allawi government increasingly look to pious Shiites as though they are very little different from Saddam. Muqtada is also the son-in-law of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, the theorist of an Islamic state for Iraq whom Saddam had executed in 1980.
The Americans and Allawi cannot compete with Muqtada’s religious authority. They also cannot stop his movement by killing him. Muqtada’s favorability rating was 68% according to the CPA’s own polling last May. It may well be higher now. (It is often argued that Najaf inhabitants hate Muqtada and his Mahdi Army, which justifies the US assault. It is true that Muqtada and his men are not from Najaf and are resented there, but Muqtada does have substantial support in many other southern Shiite cities, so that weakens the argument that he is not liked.)
Although Muqtada and his men are now under siege, Waco-style, it is not for sure that the Marines can capture or kill him. I suspect Najaf is crisscrossed by underground tunnels, which is how Muqtada and others used to evade Saddam’s secret police.
If he is trapped in the shrine, and the siege goes on very long, that in itself could inflame Shiite passions against the US. Remember that Waco was in the back of the mind of Timothy McVeigh, who later blew up a Federal building.
My guess is that if Muqtada is killed, and maybe also if he is captured and imprisoned, that will tip the Sadr movement into conducting a long-term low-intensity guerrilla war, similar to what Sunni radicals and Arab nationalists have done in the Sunni heartland for the past 16 months. The south had been much quieter than the Sunni Arab areas, but I suspect that calm can no longer be taken for granted. The question is what happens to the Iraqi government if it faces two major guerrilla insurgencies going on at the same time.