Why does the Mahdi Army fight?
Mariam Fam of AP talks about the cultural dynamics around the Army of the Mahdi, the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr. She does a good job of providing a balanced view. She quotes one of the militiamen:
‘ Ayad Ali, a militiaman in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum, claimed his brother was run over by a U.S. tank.
”I would fight the Americans until the last drop of my blood,” he said, echoing a sermon al-Sadr has delivered in a funeral shroud, symbolizing his readiness to die in battle.
Al-Sadr also attracts followers faithful to the memory of his father, a senior Shiite cleric killed by suspected Saddam agents in 1999.
I think the Americans are gradually incurring feuds with all the major clans of Iraq, and this is undesirable. Americans are individualists, and don’t understand clan societies. How many Americans are close enough to their cousins even to ask one for a loan? But many Iraqis would risk their lives to protect or avenge a cousin.
Ernest Gellner argued that it is industrialization that breaks up the clans. If you have factories all over the place, going in and out of business, then individuals are pulled away to them by the work opportunities. Clans and clan solidarity depend on people staying put, either on farms in villages, or in close-knit urban neighborhoods. Iraq’s industrialization never proceeded far enough to really break up the clans, and many have emigrated jointly to city neighborhoods, keeping their ties even in an urban environment.
If you want a stark visual account of what is going on in Najaf, look at the pictures at Karbala News.net. The pictures of people walking or marching show Shiites hurrying to Najaf in hopes of forming a human shield around Muqtada. Most are self-explanatory. Mostly these kinds of images are absent from US mass media reports.