Sunday, April 13, 2003

The turmoil in Najaf seems to be caused primarily by a group led by one Muqtada Sadr, son of an Ayatollah Muhammad-Sadiq Sadr who died at Ba'athist hands in 1999. Ayatollah as-Sadr had a large anti-Saddam organization, though I can't find much about their alternate program. When they went after al-Khoei, it was because he was defending a pro-Saddam mullah on his reconciliation mission. Now they are targeting Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, using the line he is Iranian-born, and the spiritual leader of Iraq must be an Iraqi.

It is difficult to know precisely where any of these figures would come down on current events, save that all are anti-Saddam and al-Khoei was actually pro-American. Sistani was a student of al-Khoei's father, but that may not mean much under the present circumstances. The main question on my mind is how a 22-year-old like Muqtada Sadr is able to compete for leadership of the Shi'ites in Najaf when Shi'ite leadership has traditionally depended so much on a long career of religious learning. It may simply be that Saddam failed to effectively crush the Sadr organization a few years ago. But in the realm of pure speculation, I also can't help but notice that Sadr's actions and philosophy leave the door wide open for an entrance from Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, head of an Iran-based group opposed to the American administrion of Iraq. Iran will definitely not be sitting idly by while the U.S. has its way in Iraq. In Afghanistan, they have essentially used the warlord Ismail Khan in Herat to establish a foothold of influence in the Afghan government, and it is very logical they would try to do the same in Iraq. There's no solid evidence for this yet, but it's something to bear in mind. In the end, I'm not sure it matters much who wins this fight, as long as we don't see a descent into anarchy.


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