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Days after Saddam Hussein’s regime crumbled at the hands of the Americans, Sayyed Abdul Majid al Khoei; the most renowned exiled Iraqi cleric and oppositional figure was stabbed to death in Najaf upon the first day of his return to Iraq.

This heinous crime marked the first battle between two Iraqi sides, victorious after the fall of Saddam Hussein. It was also the first indicator to foreshadow the bleak future that Saddam Hussein’s regime had repeatedly warned of and used as an excuse to spread fear among adversaries, upholding that the fall of the regime will ignite a war between the different sects and leaderships on every inch of Iraqi soil. Harsh as his rule may have been, it was the only constant that guaranteed unity and stability in Iraq.

Unfortunately, Saddam’s prophesy was confirmed through Sayyed Muqtada al Sadr’s example three years ago on the 10th April, when he got rid of his adversary, within the confines of a mosque. Muqtada, once an unknown name to the West, has become a key player in the turmoil of the Iraqi political arena to this day. Observers of the Iraqi scene predicted that he would lead the young and the poor in a revolution that would take the new era by surprise. Indeed, he was a source of disruption.

His sect instilled fear everywhere, struggling against the government, attacking rival Shia areas, slaughtering hundreds of Sunnis, assassinating leading Baathist figures and constantly clashing with the Americans. Although the young cleric was a thorn in everyone’s side, nobody sought to squarely confront him until the former Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, challenged him on his own turf whilst simultaneously attacking followers of the Takfiri ideology [that adheres to denouncing fellow Muslims as infidels] in Sunni Fallujah.

Excluding Iraqi security ambushes and the small-scale American military raids; al Sadr remained a problem that no one could resolve. One of his former supporters who has now deserted him believes that confrontation with al Sadr is imminent because the majority regard him as a problem. Others claim that he does not control his followers who execute these criminal operations at the behest of internal and external entities, and that he is forced to defend them verbally.

Muqtada al Sadr came to mind after I read a statement two weeks ago attributed to him in which he disowned his followers who kill people unjustly. But these are words that support the law of the jungle rather than refute it, evidence of which surfaced four days ago when he justified the acts of one of his death squad leaders who had slain people in a Sunni area in Baghdad under the claim that they were takfiri criminals. This justification is one that invalidates the government and highlights the potentiality of his danger. When the Iraqi forces attacked one of his cells that manage the death squads, in response, he called the Iraqi government force “the filthy squad”, claiming that his people were defending themselves!

Perhaps it was al Sadr who initiated political killing after his followers murdered Khoei, however, he is no longer the only one ripping Iraq apart with these killing sprees: there is a large number of hostile sectarian groups, people with personal vendettas whose thirst for blood is never quenched, in addition to the terrorist group Al Qaeda, and mercenary militias. After it became clear to everyone that the killing of a man as prominent as al Khoei can go unpunished, the prevalent sentiment has become that murder is more acceptable than thievery. At first the Sunni and Baathist extremists defended al Sadr deeming him patriotic – until he turned on them. The problem is no longer confined to the villains of Sadr city; it has become a country of villains hailing from different creeds and political inclinations.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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