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In Search of a Cover for al Sadr - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Sayyid Muqtada al Sadr’s Mehdi army was not formed through a fatwa issued by Shia maraji’ [highest echelons of Shia clergy] for him to declare that he is willing to dismantle the group only if ordered to do so by top Shia clerics.

Of course if it means resorting to Shia religious authorities then the matter lies in the hands of Sayyid [Ali Husaini] al Sistani in Najaf and Ayatollah Kazem al Haeri in Qom.

And yet the question still remains: Why has al Sadr resorted to saying that? And why did he not ask Iranian Supreme Guide Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to issue a fatwa [religious edict] in the same way Hassan Nasrallah, who believes in Wilayat-e-Faqih, does in Lebanon?

Al Sadr was not clever in taking this decision inasmuch as he was searching for a cover after he realized that Tehran’s government had abandoned him. This was especially confirmed when the Iranian Foreign Ministry asserted that it was supporting Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s government in Iraq in ‘Knight’s Assault’ [military operation] – which automatically means that it is against al Sadr.

It’s clear that al Sadr now knows that Iran is against him and that it would rather have a loyal government than a militia, and thus he had little recourse but to resort to religious authorities after he was abandoned by Tehran’s politicians.

But herein lies the paradox; Iraq is held hostage by fatwas and religious authorities; it is not the democratic Iraq that the US envisaged as a model for the region. This is all because of Iran which the US is negotiating with over Iraq in hope of securing a speedy withdrawal for its troops.

But that is not all; Nouri al Maliki carried out ‘Knight’s Assault’ against the Mehdi army with Iranian approval, everything was covered in the name of religion, and likewise; Muqtada al Sadr defends himself from behind a religious cover too. Therefore, the victims in Iraq are those who want a modern united state that is far removed from the sectarian quota system.

With faith and conviction that Iraq must become stable for its citizens; it must be said that Nouri al Maliki’s government has not begun the political reconciliation process in a proper manner. In fact; it is obvious that the government is keener on its alliance with Tehran and its backing of the pro-Iran parties than it is about the interests of a free and independent Iraq.

The armed militias were not born today and it is not only Muqtada al Sadr’s militia, rather the situation has reached the point where every ministry has a militia, same as every party and group in Iraq.

Of course this does not mean one should support al Sadr and the Mehdi army militias, inasmuch as it does not indicate al Maliki’s courage – in the words of US President Bush – on the grounds that al Maliki is a Shia in a showdown with other Shia.

But this is an oversimplification and as I had previously reiterated, Nabih Berri’s Shia Amal movement in Lebanon was overthrown by the Shia Hezbollah – with Iran’s blessing. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that there is a conflict between Iraq’s Shia and Iran’s Shia that could blow up at any moment.

The matter of importance is to build a free and independent Iraq in which the legitimacy is based on preserving the state’s unity – not competing in order to consolidate sectarian agendas.

Moreover, it is clear that given the Iranian support and the manner in which al Maliki’s government is bent on eliminating al Sadr that it foreshadows a grave danger that threatens all the other Iraqi parties and groups that want a free and independent Iraq – not an American Iraq or a Mullah one.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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