Get well soon

by John Quiggin on August 13, 2004

According to this AP report in the NY Times, Moqtada al-Sadr has been wounded by US shelling in Najaf. Sadr is an irresponsible demagogue, his political agenda is reactionary and authoritarian and his militia has been guilty of many acts of thuggery and violence. And we should all wish for his complete and speedy recovery from his wounds.

Update There is a ceasefire and negotiations have started for a truce. This is welcome news, and I hope the talks are successful. However, it only points up the fact that the bloody campaign to destroy Sadr was both morally indefensible (as well as being politically stupid). I restate the point I made when the fighting was at its peak.

Almost certainly, the current fighting will end in the same sort of messy compromise that prevailed before the first campaign started. Nothing will have been gained by either side. But 2000 or so people will still be dead. Sadr bears his share of the guilt for this crime. The US government is even more guilty.

Sadr would be far more dangerous dead than alive. As the grandson of an Iraqi prime minister and the son of a social activist, both of whom were murdered by Saddam Hussein, he would make the perfect martyr for a Shi’ite equivalent of Al Qaeda. If you wanted to supply the basis for a claim that Bush=Saddam, you could scarcely do better than martyring Sadr.

In the short term, his death would make it just about impossible for any Shi’ite leader to give support to the Allawi government[1]. Already, Ayatollah Sistani who has no love for Sadr, and would have been happy to see him pushed out of Najaf[2], has called for a ceasefire. The attack was already criticised by Iraqi vice-president Jafari of the Dawa party, also a rival of Sadr, and there have been a number of resignations from less senior officials, not to mention widespread demonstrations. As always Juan Cole has details

The only remotely feasible option is to make a place for Sadr and his supporters in the political process, and to hope that he is moderated by the attractions of office, as has happened in many cases before. There were some tentative steps in this direction in the period between the April insurrection and the current fighting. But, as with everything else they have done, the Administration was too clever by half, offering the facade of democratic processes, while trying to rig them in favor of their preferred clients[3]. Sadr rejected the crumbs he was offered then. If he survives, his price will undoubtedly be higher now[4].

fn1. Obviously, I’m talking about religious Shi’ites as opposed to secular politicians from a Shi’ite background like Allawi himself.

fn2. It’s widely rumored that his trip to London for heart surgery was timed to permit a push against Sadr. I can’t say I believe this rumor, but it’s indicative of relations between the two.

fn3. The prime example of being too clever by half was Bremer’s abortive and disastrous “caucuses” plan last year. If Sistani’s proposal for an election (using ration books as a temporary electoral roll) had been accepted, Iraq might by now have had a relatively moderate Islamist government and Sadr could have been kept on the margins. But it was obvious that Chalabi wouldn’t have had a chance in such an election so it wasn’t held. Less than a year later, Chalabi is on trial for corruption and cosying up to Sadr, but Iraq is still dealing with the consequences of Bremer’s bungling.

fn4. I’m not asserting that this approach would work. But it’s already clear that the attack on Sadr has been a disaster.

{ 54 comments }

1

Steve Carr 08.13.04 at 11:59 am

John, in all seriousness, can you offer up any examples of fundamentalist theocrats who have been “moderated by the attractions of office”? Throughout your discussions of Sadr, you have treated him as if he was just another Third World leader of a guerrilla army. But he’s not: he’s a man who believes — genuinely believes — that the law has been laid down once and for all time by God in the Koran, and that he understands what that law is. I don’t see how someone who actually believes that — and who, unlike most Western fundamentalists, has grown up in an absolutely authoritarian culture — will be moderated by being given access to state power.

2

Ray 08.13.04 at 12:25 pm

How do you know that this is what he believes – wholeheartedly, not a single doubt – and not just what he says, the way most senior US politicians will profess their deep and personal faith in God?
What makes you so sure that he will not compromise on these beliefs a little, if by doing so he gets to be the man who delievers electricity and hospitals to Najaf?
Besides, what he personally believes is not quite the point. The point is, which choice will make people follow him? I don’t think people follow him because they can see into his soul and recognise the solidity of his faith. They follow him because he is fighting the US, and that’s a popular fight (among a largeish segment of the Iraqi population). If you want them to stop fighting, you have to give them a victory, but one that they know is precarious. A cabinet post, a governorship – something with power, but something that can be taken away.

3

Steve Carr 08.13.04 at 12:42 pm

Ray, I think this is the fundamental problem with the left’s analysis of theocratic Islamism: it doesn’t believe that religion really matters, at least not in the way that nationalism or even class does. Here we have a cleric who is explicitly religious in his language, who is the son of a man revered for his religious commitments, and who is explicit about his theocratic goals, and you think people are following him simply because he’s anti-American. There’s little doubt at this point that the U.S. dramatically underestimated the spread of popular Islamism in Iraq under Saddam, and there’s little doubt that in general we have underestimated how radicalized the religious beliefs of many young men have become throughout the Arab world. Treating Sadr and his Mahdi Army as simply a manifestation of nationalism would be a serious mistake. One of the things that’s especially mystifying about this argument is that the main reason Sadr is in Najaf now is because it’s a holy city. And much of his defensive strategy has been predicated on the idea that if Americans violate the shrines, that will provoke even more resistance. Again, this isn’t because the shrines are some symbol of Iraqi identity. It’s because they’re holy, and for non-Muslims to attack them is seen as deeply offensive.

4

John Quiggin 08.13.04 at 12:46 pm

Steve, the most obvious example is the Lebanese Hizbollah which was one of the leading participants in the civil war there, and committed numerous terrorist acts, but is now a more-or-less normal political party in the Lebanese context.

Hizbollah is still violently anti-Israel, but that is true of any party with significant popular support anywhere in the Islamic world.

5

John Quiggin 08.13.04 at 1:06 pm

Also, Steve, your description of the fundamentalist theocrat is very reminiscent of the things that used to be said about Communists. Plenty of them turned out not to be immune to the temptations of capitalism.

6

Ray 08.13.04 at 1:09 pm

“Ray, I think this is the fundamental problem with the left’s analysis of theocratic Islamism: it doesn’t believe that religion really matters, at least not in the way that nationalism or even class does.”

Of course it matters – its a way of distinguishing a group to which you belong from a group to which you are opposed. Religion, class, colour, nationality, sexual orientation – all ways of drawing those boundaries.

What I don’t believe is that religion is different from those other issues. I think people can and do hold nationalist or racist feelings very strongly, as strongly as others hold religious feelings. So you can’t say Sadr is religious therefore cannot be negotiated with. Practically everybody can be negotiated with, no matter what they are motivated by.

The resistance in Iraq is not simply religious though, its a mixture of religion and nationalism. The religious element is often played up because its an easy way to distinguish Americans from Iraqis – if the US attacks holy shrines it is proof of their Otherness, but George Bush wouldn’t become an Iraqi hero overnight if he converted to Islam.

7

Ray 08.13.04 at 1:25 pm

It occurs to me – if Sadr whole-heartedly believed that Iraq must be an Islamist state, is willing to settle for nothing less, and would willingly give his life in that cause, he wouldn’t be a problem. Because he would have been killed by Saddam Hussein years ago.
Since he is still alive, we can conclude that Sadr is willing to hold fire when necessary, take the best that he thinks he can get, and generally adapt himself to the situation. Trouble is, at the moment it looks like ‘the best that he can get’ is martyred leader of a jihad against the US occupiers and their puppet government.

8

Steve Carr 08.13.04 at 1:32 pm

John, Communism was an ideology focused completely on this world. It’s not surprising that people who believed in it were quite swayable by this-world considerations. While Islamism wants to remake this world, it’s ultimately concerned with bigger matters, namely God’s will. In that context, compromising puts your eternal soul at risk. I don’t know that there were too many Communists who were worried about that.

This is why Ray is wrong to say that religion is ultimately, like nationalism or racism, a way of distinguishing your group from others. It’s much more than that. If you are doing God’s will, and if God has laid down the truth, then how can you ultimately compromise? You can temporarily adopt a softer line, look for tactical advantages, etc. But ultimately, the truth is the truth. I’m not saying this is true of all religious people. But I think it is true of most fundamentalists.

9

Ray 08.13.04 at 1:47 pm

There have also been people with strongly held views on race, or nation, or class, that refused to compromise their beliefs. And people with strongly held beliefs about religion who nonetheless compromised those beliefs. (I don’t need to come up with examples here, do I?)

As I said back in the first post, Sadr may be the type who simply will not compromise, but such men are rare. Most of his followers are not such men. If Sadr is offered a decent compromise, one that saves him face, gives him power, and gives him the hope of further power to come, I think he’ll take it. But even if he doesn’t, if he publicly refuses a credible offer, one with the backing of Sistani and other figures who are seen as independent, he will lose support.

10

praktike 08.13.04 at 2:00 pm

I guess I have to say that unless Sadr gets rolled ASAP — concomitant with a political efforts to bring his people into the fold — he’ll do this again and again and again. I think it’s important for the government to establish that it is in charge. Ditto for the Najaf hierarchy. Of course, we’re walking a tightrope here. But walk it we must.

11

kenrufo 08.13.04 at 2:23 pm

Given the terrorists elsewhere in Iraq, given the political strength that Sadr has throughout the county, given the problems in the south and the recent threat of souther Shia succession, I see the recent assault on Sadr in Najaf has nothing but the government demonstrating that it is in charge – a political consolidation of the first order. No doubt it will be successful in doing so, at least in the short term, but the longer-term seems particularly unclear. Especially if you believe so highly in the importance of religion in Iraq and in Sadr (and his followers, since Sadr is nothing without popular support), then the isolation and/or killing of Sadr may have repercussions much worse than had Sadr been allowed to play his local rebel game over and over, much less than if they had offered him a cabinet position. John’s absolutely right – I hope Sadr recovers and survives, and does both quickly.

12

Motoko Kusanagi 08.13.04 at 2:53 pm

“…I see the recent assault on Sadr in Najaf has nothing but the government demonstrating that it is in charge – a political consolidation of the first order.”

How can a US military action demonstrate that the Allawi government is in charge?

13

baa 08.13.04 at 3:37 pm

When the smoking man on the X-Files refused to kill Mulder for fear of “making a martyr”, it seemed like a transparent plot-sustaining fiction.

Not to be flip, but why should we believe any differnt about Sadr? Seriously, can we think of *any* political figure whose martyrdom ended up hurting the side who had him killed? Maybe Escobar’s murder of the Columbian justice minister falls into this category. But are there any others? Can anyone think of an example from the Middle East? I think the sad truth is that killing people is usually really effective policy.

14

me2i81 08.13.04 at 3:58 pm

“Seriously, can we think of any political figure whose martyrdom ended up hurting the side who had him killed?”

Uh…al-Sadr’s father?
Or how about Imam Ali?
Or how about Jesus Christ?
Sometimes the fallout takes a while, but the people in that region have very long memories.

I don’t know about al-Sadr; he’s got his detractors, but if, say, Sistani were killed, the U.S. would be fair and squarely fucked even more than it is today.

15

Dave 08.13.04 at 4:00 pm

[T]he most obvious example is the Lebanese Hizbollah which was one of the leading participants in the civil war there, and committed numerous terrorist acts, but is now a more-or-less normal political party in the Lebanese context.

Except for the part where they’re still terrorists. Unless you consider launching rockets into civilian areas of a state which has stopped fighting you and withdrawn from your territory a legitimate military action.

[The] description of the fundamentalist theocrat is very reminiscent of the things that used to be said about Communists. Plenty of them turned out not to be immune to the temptations of capitalism.

I think the objection stated above holds. There is a difference between fighting for God and fighting for a political cause. Look at it this way – how many Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. “grow out of” their religion? How many hippies from the ’60s turned into yuppies in the ’80s and ’90s?

Most of the time when you have a dictator or oligarchy, whether it’s communism or fascism, the focus is on power rather than principle. When you have theocracy, it’s at the very least both. And if it’s not both in the leadership, it’s both in a lot of the population.

I think if you consider Lenin or Marx, you might make an argument for a true belief in the principle. People like Stalin and the subsequent Soviet leaders, however, were driven primarily by personal interest and not as much by ideology. It’s much easier to convince that type of person to change their position (in the name of self-interest) than it is someone who truly believes he is doing God’s will.

16

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.13.04 at 4:14 pm

“Steve, the most obvious example is the Lebanese Hizbollah which was one of the leading participants in the civil war there, and committed numerous terrorist acts, but is now a more-or-less normal political party in the Lebanese context.

Emphasis mine.

All I can say is, wow.

Hizbollah as the model for Iraq.

Wow.

In the context of one of the most non-governmental governments around. In the context of an actual and current terrorist group.

Wow.

17

Peter G 08.13.04 at 4:31 pm

Seriously, can we think of any political figure whose martyrdom ended up hurting the side who had him killed? … I think the sad truth is that killing people is usually really effective policy.

Exactly, BAA. This is what I and some others argued in the “Justified Assassination” thread. We all remember the dire predictions when Sheikh Yassin was killed by the Israelis. Despite his “spiritual leader” status, it turns out he was not much of a leader and dispensible. Sadr may not be indispensible… to his movement. As many megalomaniac leaders have been in the past (beginning, of course, with Hitler, Stalin and Mao). Eliminate them and you change the entire course of history. To insist otherwise is to practise a very naive version of whig historiography.

18

Ray 08.13.04 at 4:37 pm

“Seriously, can we think of any political figure whose martyrdom ended up hurting the side who had him killed?”

You have perhaps heard of the Easter Rising? Nationalist attack on an occupying power, not very popular at the time but became more and more popular as the rebels were killed?

“how many Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. “grow out of” their religion? “

I’m sure loads of them do – many of the ones who were dead against sex before marriage end up having sex before marriage, many of those who were dead against divorce end up getting divorce, etc, etc.

Even the prominent fundamentalist leaders – I haven’t made a study of them, but I’ll bet you could tell the difference between a fundy speech made in 1970 and a speech made in 2000.

Frankly, I think this whole “Iraqis are fundamentalist zealots who will never change their minds” is an attempt to dehumanise people, to absolve you of the responsibility of treating them as human beings with similar goals to your own. Very, very, very few people are so dedicated to a cause that there is no possibility of negotiation. But if Iraqis are robot-like drones, programmed by the Koran, you don’t even have to try.

I find this latter-day acceptance of the rationality and humanity of Those Evil Commies quite funny. It doesn’t seem to tie in that well with the oft-repeated craziness and unpredictability of the North Koreans. (Or Castro?) Oh, for a time-machine!

19

Peter G. 08.13.04 at 4:40 pm

Oops. That should be: “… Sadr may be indispensible” above. No “not”!

20

baa 08.13.04 at 5:22 pm

Actually, I know next to nothing about the Easter rising. Please enlighten me.

I’m not making a broad claim that violence always works, I just think that the danger of martyring an enemy seems to be overblown. Christ and Imam Ali seem perplexing counter-examples in this context.

Here’s an example of what I mean: Hamid Karzai. Wouldn’t killing him obviiously be a huge coup for Al Queda? Would they spend time wondering if they’ve “made a martyr” that will end-up mobilizing modernizing Arabs?

Maybe Sadat is a case, as it just provoked a crackdown by the Egyptian regime. But it’s hard to see that it did so through the vehicle of martyrdom, more like the vehicle of fear.

21

Dan Hardie 08.13.04 at 5:34 pm

‘John, in all seriousness, can you offer up any examples of fundamentalist theocrats who have been “moderated by the attractions of office”?’

The Shi’ite Amal party in Lebanon- big-time kidnappers and bombers in the ’80s, your standard vested-interest fingers-in-pie corrupt third world hacks nowadays. No, it’s not Jeffersonian democracy, which would be blooming in Iraq right now, if it weren’t for John Kerry and ‘the Left’.

If Sebastian H. is horrified by the notion of Lebanon as a model for Iraq, let me just add that so am I- but that Lebanon in 2004 is in rather better shape than Lebanon in 1974 or 1984, at least to anyone whose historical knowledge stretches further than the end of last week. All possible options for Iraq seem pretty awful right now, and we should aim for the least awful.

The main point, I would say, is not whatever fantasies pass through the rather empty mind of Moqtada al-Sadr, but rather how many disaffected Shi’ites he can get to follow him into the streets. If he can be steered away from barmy radicalism, good- but that may not be possible. What really counts is reducing the appeal of Sadr-like barmy radicals for the Shi’ite urban poor. I hope that street battles in Najaf contribute towards that outcome, but I have to say I am more than a little pessimistic that they will.

22

bob mcmanus 08.13.04 at 5:47 pm

“and who, unlike most Western fundamentalists, has grown up in an absolutely authoritarian culture — will be moderated by being given access to state power.”

If you meant Saddam, I would not call Saddam’s Iraq an authoritarian “culture”.

If you mean Islam in some way, you are missing what is going on, and what I think goes on in Iran and most of the other Arab/Muslim nations, excluding Saudi Arabia.

It is precisely a lack of authoritarianism that gave rise to Sadr. Any scholar appears to be able to come up with a reasonable interpretation of Islamic Law, and then try to attract followers. In Shia Iraq, we have at least three, Dawa, SCIRI, and Sadr. They are simultaneously religious sects and political parties with militias (and I know it is much more complicated than this). Certainly and predictably, each faction would like to achieve hegemony and perhaps dictatorship, but Sadr is well aware that he would not displace Sistani and the other clerics immediately.

He simply wants to maximise the influence of his sect, party, the class he represents. The people he represents contain a disproportionate number of violent poor young thugs, who as often is the case in the ME, enjoy strutting under the righteousness of a radical Islam.

This is not to dismiss the serious dangers he represents, but I do think it better to understand Sadr as a political problem more than a religious one.

23

Warthog 08.13.04 at 6:08 pm

Political Islam, called Islamism by the King of Morroco and now the 9/11 Commission, is mutually exclusive of democracy. Islamism does not and cannot give legitimacy to any law made by legislature as all law regulating every moment of human existence can only come from Allah (Shar’ia). Letting Sadr live and involving him in the political process would only give Sadr a legitimate power base from which to recruit and rearm and merely delay the next confrontation.

The path to representative government in Iraq can take many paths but none of them include the existence of independent militias whether religious, ethnic or politically derived. If Alawi allows Sadr to walk out of the mosque area with his militia then the path to liberty in Iraq will hit a brick wall. Perhaps the result will be fatal.

24

kevin donoghue 08.13.04 at 6:10 pm

“The only remotely feasible option is to make a place for Sadr and his supporters in the political process, and to hope that he is moderated by the attractions of office, as has happened in many cases before.”

That’s very reasonable, but can Allawi afford to be reasonable? Even “moderate” Sadrists would surely insist on minimising American influence in Iraq, which would leave Allawi depending on his local support to survive.

Baa, Easter 1916 was a “futile” Irish rebellion against British rule which led inexorably to independence after the leaders were executed. Yeats might convey to you the emotional impact the executions had, but I suspect you really have to be Irish to get it:

http://www.online-literature.com/yeats/779/

25

kevin 08.13.04 at 7:23 pm

“how many Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. “grow out of” their religion?”

Almost all of them, actually. There are very few Fundamentalist leaders who argue for the banning of dancing or going to movies — things that just a couple of decades ago were pretty central parts of fundamentalist culture. If you want to go further back we can discuss the change from “bible defends slavery” to “bible condemns slavery” in the mid 1800s. The point is that religious beliefs often do compromise with the wider society, even if they do so quietly.

26

George 08.13.04 at 8:50 pm

Without having read thru all the comments, let me say that I disagree with the original post. If Sadr dies, at least as many people will think he was an out-of-his-depth thug who got what he deserved, as will think he was a martyr. Probably more. In contrast, wounding Sadr but not killing him would be the worst of all worlds.

27

George 08.13.04 at 9:02 pm

Without having read thru all the comments, let me say that I disagree with the original post. If Sadr dies, at least as many people will think he was an out-of-his-depth thug who got what he deserved, as will think he was a martyr. Probably more. In contrast, wounding Sadr but not killing him would be the worst of all worlds.

28

kevin donoghue 08.13.04 at 9:06 pm

“Letting Sadr live and involving him in the political process would only give Sadr a legitimate power base from which to recruit and rearm and merely delay the next confrontation.”

Warthog,

If the plan is to hold elections then whoever gets the Sadrist vote will probably have much the same attitude to politics as Muqtada. Killing him will hardly turn them into moderates. If the Sadrists don’t have much popular support not much is lost by letting him live and win his few seats. If they are a significant bloc (as seems more likely) then that confrontation will happen with or without Muqtada.

The existence of militias may be incompatible with democracy but then it is hard to justify picking on the Sadrists. As John Quiggin’s earlier post pointed out, al-Sadr’s is only one of many such outfits, some no better than his.

I find if I drop the assumption about democracy it all makes a bit more sense.

29

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.13.04 at 9:17 pm

How many armed insurrections does Sadr get to lead against Iraq before he is off limits as a political actor?

30

George 08.13.04 at 9:22 pm

I’m not an expert on the Iraqi political scene, but are there really any “Sadrists”? From what I’ve read, Sadr heads a ragtag band of kids with guns (plus a few dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards) who would all be wiped out in 12 hours if they hadn’t had the brave idea of fighting from Shia’s holiest spots. They’re getting on everybody’s nerves down there.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other, more dangerous insurgents in Iraq, some of whom may coordinate with Sadr directly or indirectly. But they owe him no allegience, dead or alive. When Sadr gets it, “Sadrism” goes away.

31

kevin donoghue 08.13.04 at 9:27 pm

This is very casual empiricism, but comparing this ceasefire with those which followed the earlier fighting with Sadrists and Sunnis I seem to see a pattern:

the ceasefire comes soon after Iraqis associated with the Coalition resign in protest;

the ceasefire is followed by a marked drop in the ferocity of pro-war bloggers (although I remember Tacitus went memorably gaga after the Falluja ceasefire).

32

Dave 08.13.04 at 9:34 pm

Frankly, I think this whole “Iraqis are fundamentalist zealots who will never change their minds” is an attempt to dehumanise people, to absolve you of the responsibility of treating them as human beings with similar goals to your own.

This is a bit of a distortion about what was said. I think it’s clear that the radical Islamic fundamentalists are not going to be easy to reason with or to bring into the political process. I also think the “true believers” like al-Sadr are a small enough minority that they can be dealt with without having to demonize or kill off the whole Shi’ite population.

I mean, look at Sistani – he’s got a huge following, and he’s advocating democratic reform. He wants to be part of the new government. Of course, that’s probably because Shi’ites will have a majority, but the fundamentalists most certainly won’t. But Sistani understands that his group won’t have any power or legitimacy if they take the route al-Sadr has.

33

dsquared 08.13.04 at 9:43 pm

In answer to Steve Carr’s question above, Malaysia and Indonesia both have Islamist theocratic parties in Parliament, and they have been moderated by involvement in the political process. India actually had a Hindu-nationalist government for a while, and while I don’t personally like the BJP they weren’t a disaster. Nigeria also has theocratic elements in its government, with somewhat less success, as does Sri Lanka, and after a very long and very unpleasant time, Algeria has more or less come to an accomodation with the Islamic fundamentalist politicians (note that in the Algerian case, the atrocities and appalling behaviour was committed by the anti-Islamists.

Turkey also has a couple of Islamist parties, but the only one that is really involved in mainstream parties isn’t really theocratic.

34

kevin donoghue 08.13.04 at 9:53 pm

“How many armed insurrections does Sadr get to lead against Iraq before he is off limits as a political actor?”

The guy is a dangerous and the desire to be rid of him is understandable. But looking at the chronology, the attempt to push Muqtada off the political stage usually comes before the insurrection. Admittedly you could read the chronology in a different way: the fiercely anti-American editorial could be considered the provocation rather than the closure of the newspaper which follows.

George, it would be nice if Sadr were such a marginal figure as you suggest. I think Juan Cole knows a bit about the Shiites and he says different:

“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.”

35

nick 08.13.04 at 9:58 pm

Wow.

A word that can be applied quite equally to Sebastian’s ignorance of Middle East politics.

36

George 08.13.04 at 10:18 pm

Kevin:

I grant that Juan Cole probably knows a lot more about Shiism than I do; wouldn’t be hard. But while the quote you reproduced shows Sadr can’t be dismissed (which we haven’t) it doesn’t prove your point. I did a bit of Googling to see what supporting evidence I could find for my position, and I found a lot of reporting from April of this year (see http://apnews.myway.com//article/20040409/D81R1AIO0.html and http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A50349-2004Apr4?language=printer and http://abcnews.go.com/sections/world/WorldNewsTonight/iraq_poll_040405.html) but on the other hand a more recent poll (see this Drezner post: http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/001308.html; the FT site is subscription only) showed a surge in support for Sadr in May.

So we’re back to the original question: will killing or capturing him increase or decrease his support? I say the latter. But again, I’m no expert.

37

kevin donoghue 08.14.04 at 12:04 am

George, thanks for the links; however I think the mainstream media do a lousy job of reporting Iraqi politics. A useful counterweight to Juan Cole is the blogger Zeyad, an Iraqi dentist. He is as keen to make a martyr of Muqtada as you are, so not surprisingly he takes a dim view of this truce.

He says the government “now appears to be in a weaker position than that of Sadr” which may not be saying much for Sadr’s strength since “Allawi is just the local mayor of the Green Zone.”

Admittedly he is wont to sound off when displeased.

http://healingiraq.blogspot.com/

38

Warthog 08.14.04 at 12:44 am

What, if anything, can we infer from Sistani’s trip to London instead of Teheran for “medical treatment”?

I don’t have the link but I recall reading that the Iranians lobbied him hard to come to Teheran.

39

Lance Boyle 08.14.04 at 1:28 am

The posturing and glib references to murder and death in this thread are disgustingly adolescent.
Al Sadr’s as much Che Guevara as he is John Brown, and he’s in the right. There’s nothing thuggish about protecting your own people.
The Sadrists aren’t raping children in foreign prisons, and they aren’t invading anyone. Conflating them with any other group is propagandistic horseshit. They were fighting for their independence against Saddam’s Baathist thugs, and they still are. It’s no accident the Baathists are back in action in Iraq, with US approval.
Calling Muqtada al-Sadr a thug is a cowardly and despicable perversion of the truth.
He’s a courageous man, and a selfless leader. The precise opposite of a thug. And he’s being assassinated by lying immoral scum.
Most of you know nothing of the Arab heart and mind. You’re afraid, and comforted by the ruthless violence of the thug military that stands between you and the chaos your lifestyle has created in the rest of the world.

40

Abbas 08.14.04 at 3:32 am

Most of you know nothing of the Arab heart and mind.

And you do, Mr. Boyle? I’m not expert on “the Arab mind” (not even my wife’s) but I’m an anesthesiologist and I’ve participated in surgery on over 150 Arab hearts. They beat like all others. Oh, by the way, I was born (Iranian) Shiite; my wife and I both think Sadr is a thug.

41

DaveC 08.14.04 at 5:17 am

Very unsophisticated of me to say this, but

“I hope we win”

(echoing Lileks)

If this means getting rid of Sadr, so be it.

42

DaveC 08.14.04 at 5:23 am

“I hope we win”

echoing Lileks

Does that mean I am for getting shed of Sadr? Yes.

Unsophisticted, ignorant. Well I suppose so, if not wanting Hizbollah or Hamas or Tawhid or Ansar Al Islam to run things in that part of the world is ignorant.

“They are not anti-war. They are just for the other side.”

43

Lance Boyle 08.14.04 at 8:01 am

abbas-
Your flippancy would have had more sting if you had laid out the reasons you share the media-generated view of the general public about al Sadr.
And I might have felt chagrined if you had been able to give examples of his purported thuggery that were as verifiable as the carnage and waste of innocent lives that’s being done to take him down. Right now. By the proxy soldiers of America.
Geronimo was paraded across the US and his degradation gloated on by spirits much like those exhibited here. Cowardice is vicious and loud when it feels safe.
Al Sadr’s father was murdered by Saddam Hussein, and al Sadr himself was resisting the Baathist regime when Rumsfeld was in Iraq fellating whoever he was told to, back in the mirror-world of the early 80’s.
It’s a lie and an egregious one that Al Sadr’s been targeted because he’s immoral.
It is exactly his morality that is the cause of this obscene bloodbath.
That, and the complete lack of morality in the craven, cunning hearts of his enemies.

44

Steve Carr 08.14.04 at 8:15 am

I’ve been MIA all day, so I missed most of these comments, but in response to Dsquared’s post, I don’t think any of those examples are especially good analogies to what figures like Sadr represent, with one exception — Algeria. The only problem is that Dsquared’s analysis of what happened in Algeria is off-base. The FIS was not moderated by being included in the political process. It was moderated by being, to all intents and purposes, wiped out. Even so, those Islamic fundamentalist “politicians” who remain have made no bones about the fact that their idea of democracy is, roughly speaking, one vote, one time. If they were ever allowed to take office, Sharia would become the law of the land, and it would be removed from the democratic process. Algeria may have accommodated itself to the Islamists who remain alive, but the Islamists have not accommodated themselves to democracy.

Also, it’s not true that in Algeria the atrocities and appalling behavior were committed only by the anti-Islamists. Before the 1992 election, as the FIS was building support, it regularly used low-level terroristic activity against potential opponents or those engaging in non-Islamic behavior, including imposing 6 pm curfews on female university students, beating up women who did not wear the hijab, intimidating journalists, burning down the house of a woman who was a public opponent, and smashing the windows of bars that served alcohol.

This was, of course, relatively tame stuff compared to what came after. In the years immediately after they were barred from power by the military coup, when the Islamists still held hope of regaining power relatively peacefully, they wrecked hundreds of schools and murdered hundreds of teachers. They also murdered intellectuals, and between 1992 and 1999 killed nearly 100 journalists.

Then, in the late 1990s, the Islamists in the GIA embarked on a scorched-earth campaign during which, at a minimum, they murdred tens of thousands of Algerians. There’s considerable debate, still, about whether the GIA or the government security forces were responsible for the lion’s share of the deaths, but there is no disagreement among outside observers that the Islamists killed many many people. That doesn’t mean the Algerian generals were/are not awful men. But Algeria is in no sense an example that should make us feel optimistic about how fundamentalist Islamists would treat those who oppose the establishment of an Islamist state.

45

Steve Carr 08.14.04 at 8:26 am

Lance, Sadr wants to establish a regime in which women are forced to wear the veil, denied education, and perhaps even denied the vote, a regime in which laws will not be determined by the ongoing democratic vote of the people who live under them, but will rather reflect the will of God as expressed in Sharia. He is hardly John Brown or Che Guevara. He is immoral and, given the chance, he would become a champion oppressor, much like the ayatollahs in Iran. And the fact that he resisted Baathism, while it’s to his credit, is utterly irrelevant to whether or not he’s a menace to freedom in Iraq — which he absolutely is. Mao did a great job of resisting the Japanese. He was still an appalling tyrant in his own right once he got the chance. If there’s anyone here who’s adolescent, it’s you, with your warmed-over Third-Worldism and your utter indifference to what a radical Islamist regime actually looks like to those who have to live under it.

46

Abiola Lapite 08.14.04 at 9:10 am

“Nigeria also has theocratic elements in its government, with somewhat less success”

To put it mildly. All of you on here who are arguing for the inclusion of individuals like Sadr in government clearly have absolutely no firsthand experience of what it’s like to live under threat from would-be theocrats, or you wouldn’t be so concerned for the survival of a thug like Muqtada al-Sadr (for whom I have a simple and elegant solution – death).

While we’re at it, the “Lance Boyle” character who saw fit to lecture someone who’s actually from the region, and who was born into the very religion Sadr is trying to use to climb to power, as to what Shiites are feeling – or at least ought to be feeling, were they not suffering from media-induced “false consciousness” – is just the most egregious example of a strain of self-delusion driven by partisan Bush-hatred that is currently running through the left. I know that if some foreign idler were ever to suggest that the answer to Nigerian Islamist violence was to provide a place at the table for those inciting the violence, I’d curse that person and the womb that bore him.

I’ve already made this suggestion once before, but it can’t hurt to do so again: if there are any of you who really are interested in how the people of Iraq view the events going on there, rather than how you think they ought to view them, I suggest you branch out in your blog reading from sites like “Riverbend” that can be relied upon to reinforce your prejudices, and also take in blogs like “Healing Iraq”, mentioned earlier in this thread. It doesn’t matter how many papers Juan Cole has read – nothing can substitute for getting the impressions of those who are actually on the ground, and right now you obviously aren’t getting the whole picture if you imagine that Iraqis are uniformly so unintelligent as to be unable to recognize a theocratic thug for what he is when they see one. For all you know, those supposedly impressive displays of support for al-Sadr might be every bit as intimidation-driven as those we saw for Saddam on TV before the invasion occurred.

Of course, in writing this I’ve been assuming that at least a few of you genuinely have both the good interests of the Iraqis and Anglo-American troops at heart; now it’s time to see whether that was a case of hope triumphing over cynical experience.

47

dsquared 08.14.04 at 12:16 pm

While we’re at it, the “Lance Boyle” character who saw fit to lecture someone who’s actually from the region

The “Abiola Lapite” character who saw fit to lecture the author of the post and one poster who’s a British solider about what they really thought was also a bit much. That really is a case of the mosque calling the hijab Islamic.

48

Lance Boyle 08.15.04 at 7:06 am

Steve Carr-
I’m not a champion of Islam, or any Abramic religion for that matter, but I will risk embarrassment, or worse, in defense of someone whose valor and integrity shine as brightly as al Sadr’s does, in contrast to those who would have him killed.
Che Guevara was not John Brown, Mao was not Thomas Jefferson, Mohammed was not Jesus…we could do that all day.
What they have in common makes the comparison apt, and valid. Selfless courage and a willingness to risk death for humane principle, and for a people who are being ill-used at best, and enslaved and killed at worst.
For you to use the “feminist” argument is rich, considering how many women and children have been murdered by the people al Sadr is fighting, which I suppose would be you, loosely.
To mewl about women’s rights in Iraq, or anywhere, is convenient but it’s not the motive of anyone who’s actually prosecuting this war on the Muslim poor, it’s merely a selling point, part of the scam. Something to gull the big dumb public with, to keep the money and the votes lined up – like missing numbers for the mysteriously uncountable Iraqi civilian dead. Or hiding those flag-draped coffins the leftist internet brought the war home with.
A proxy war conceived, financed, directed, and gleefully observed from a distance, by merchants and ad-men.

The Third World has been on the receiving end of scorn since before the name was applied. So what. It’s the same sneering racism that made it possible for slavery and the Ten Commandments to coexist. “They’re inferior and it’s good for the economy.”
Al Sadr’s never raped anybody – you know that as well as I do. If it takes the veil and a code of religious austerity to protect my women from the feral hedonists of an outlaw military, I’m getting real interested.
To say the Shi’ites want a theocracy, as though Israel isn’t a theocracy, as though the religious right in the US doesn’t want a de facto theocracy, as though that desire is happening in a vacuum on a blank slate, out of some delusional pathology, rather than as a response to oppression and the Satanic corruption of the West, is more con and scam. High-grade manipulative p.r.
Like parents whose punishment creates the rebellion it punishes, the sickness perpetuates itself.
You’ve lost your chance at moderate compromise, but that was never the goal anyway, was it?

I’m not waiting for the day one of you rah-rah boys acknowledges the courage al Sadr’s shown by his defiance – against the US Army for God’s sake! – because I don’t think you have the honor necessary to do it.
You keep saying al Sadr’s a thug. Example one has yet to be delivered. And if you’re going to make him responsible for every act committed by Muslim fundamentalists anywhere, then be prepared to take responsibility yourselves for every act committed by Judeo-Christian fundamentalists, anywhere.
The list of nauseating crimes done by the invaders that we know about is pretty lengthy for a 17 month-old campaign. You and I both know there’s a lot more.
And on the nonsensical talking point of “the veil” – applying that to the US, where the rights of black men and women to vote had to be enforced at the point of a gun, after the absurd necessity of having to pass a specific law granting them that right, just a few decades ago, well really…
And are feminists in America satisfied with the status quo ante? News to me if they are.
Just keep repeating that “thug” “thug” “thug” “he’s a thug”.
Eventually you might start believing it. I won’t.

Lapite-
I didn’t “lecture” abbas about anything, certainly not about conditions in Iran, which is where he purports to be from. Which would make him, I believe, Persian. And his glib anatomical imagery aside, there are men and women in America who can trace their lineage to the 17th century Pilgrims who know only what their own prejudices tell them of the hearts of the people who were here before they arrived; and who know only what they tell each other of the hearts of the American service class that maintains their comfort.
________

Make a list of the known atrocities committed by the invading forces, then count the civilian dead, especially the “collaterally” killed women and children, place that next to the known crimes of the al-Mahdi Army and their collateral damage.
Then make some kind of moral argument, I’d like to hear it.

49

derrida derider 08.15.04 at 2:12 pm

Lance, I don’t really know enough about Sadr to express an opinion on his value or otherwise to Iraq – though I agree with John that the coalition’s handling of him seems less than skilful. But what makes me think you really are off with the fairies on this issue is your admiring comparison with John Brown – an unhinged religious fanatic – and with Guevara – a man too dogmatic and bloodthirsty even for Fidel’s taste.

I don’t agree with Abiola about many things, but I do on this.

50

Abbas 08.15.04 at 3:02 pm

I have no interest in getting involved with you, Mr. Boyle, but since you insist…

I was born in Iran of half “Persian” and half Arab parentage (all Shiites). Together with my wife, who is from Kuwait (and 100% Sunni Arab), we have many relatives in Iraq. We live in Canada now but we last visited both Iran and Iraq (8 days, our first visit to the country since Hussein fell) in May. From your comments, you appear to have not the slightest knowledge of (the history of) what is occurring in Iraq, which, in western terms, is simply a jockeying for power among various religious, political and ethnic groups. Muqtada al-Sadr’s (hard core) gang is one of the worst. He is trading on his father’s reputation and realizes that the only way he can muscle in on the “action” (I’m using gangster’s terms because that’s all he is) is by being more militant than the others. He has no political or social program beyond vague references to Sharia and the usual collection of “anti” slogans. In practice, his gang has been conducting a murderous campaign to eliminate rival supporters, not excluding those of Sistani. That doesn’t make the news because it’s only Iraqis killing Iraqis, but it is as vicious as you might imagine, including the barricading of an entire family in their house and throwing in grenades (3 died), and the rape of two young girls (their father had requested that Sadr’s men leave the neighbourhood so that it wouldn’t become a battleground). These are some of the Sadr activities I know firsthand (the girls’ uncle went to school with me). I have heard many others, even from people who were firm supporters of his father. The uprising he instigated in southern Iraq in April has failed. His gang has regrouped in Najaf and parts of other cities. The sooner he is eliminated the better it will be for all Iraqis.

51

Lance Boyle 08.15.04 at 11:36 pm

Abbas-
Your use of the approved terminology seems kind of rote “uprising” “insurgents” “thug”. These terms appear all at once in the media, out of some agreed-upon lexicon that shifts with events. You can track it if you have the time and access. It literally occurs within hours sometimes. The assumption I think being most people don’t read widely enough to notice it.
you still haven’t responded to the request for contrast.
Which doesn’t mean you’re wrong about Sadr’s men committing what are atrocious crimes, as you detail them. It does mean that without corroboration from someone who’s not so obviously toeing the party line I’ll have to disregard your testimony. Or the uncle of your friend’s testimony.
It reeks of the outraged “Cubans” and their hatred of Castro. Which makes a lot more sense when their ties to the morally corrupt and vicious crime syndicates that Batista ennabled are made plain.
That you seem incapable of contrasting the crimes you insist the Al-Mahdi Army is guilty of with the crimes we all know the invaders are guilty of, makes your position even more suspect. Your presence here at CT has been consistently Zionist, as far as I’ve encountered it. One of the distinguishing features of that position generally is the rote repetition of stock phrases, a tool employed by the media to great effect, regardless of its veracity.
You say you use these “gangster” terms because nothing else fits, but then you’ll need something even more heinous for the invader/occupiers, won’t you? If you’re going to be honest, I mean. If you’re not going to be honest, then of course you can use whatever terms you want.
The rhetorical device that will end this conversation is that even someone who has been in Iraq for the last ten years, and who speaks fluent Arabic in the local dialects, has no way of knowing if the Al Mahdi Army has done what you say they’ve done even if they were there, unless they were accompanied by al Sadr himself while it was happening. Too much of your position is too precisely an echo of the image-makers and their media drones for me to trust what you say. I’m sorry but that’s how it is.
I work with instinct when the facts aren’t clear, and as I said in my last post, I’ll risk embarrassment, or being wrong publicly, to defend what my heart says needs it.
Al Sadr may prove to be a thug – I doubt it enough that I’ll make this stand publicly – but even if he does prove to be that morally tainted, compared to the innocent blood spilled by Bremer and his golems he should be much lower on the list of priorities, when it’s time to kill women and children to save the people of Iraq.
The assumption there being that the welfare of the people of Iraq, especially the poor, means anything to you and the people you keep apologizing for by ellision.
÷÷÷
derrida-
I thought religious fanatic was the point. It’s what John Brown had in common with Che that makes them comparable. In their vastly different ways they stood against an overwhelmingly superior force that was in the wrong. There’s a tendency to demand moral perfection from the boat-rockers that is not applied to the boat. There are religious fanatics deciding the course of the United States, right now, it’s just that they’re well-fed and on-track. So the hysteria and desperation, which is what you’ve been trained to see as John Brown’s entire persona, aren’t there. He was fighting people who kept human beings as property. How much fanaticism will you grant him?

52

Abbas 08.16.04 at 3:43 am

I work with instinct when the facts aren’t clear…

Very wise. Even when they’re clear. Facts can be so troublesome.

Your presence here at CT has been consistently Zionist

I guess that settles it, eh? What a brilliant diagnosis. On the basis of only two comments! You’re the expert on Iraq, on Iran, on Shiism… and now “Zionism”.

Hmm… I work with physicians and surgeons in a large city hospital, and many of my colleagues are Jewish. I wonder, could “Zionism” be infectious?

53

J Thomas 08.16.04 at 7:42 am

The problem I have with demonizing Sadr is that if iraq *is* heading toward democracy, then Sadr the man will be mostly irrelevant.

If a lot of people want what he offers (blue laws, puritanical behaviors enforced by government) then they’ll vote for somebody else who offers that if Sadr is gone.

If they don’t want that, they won’t vote for Sadr even if he gets to run for election.

I haven’t seen how many iraqis agree with Sadr — we’d find out with an election. Say it’s 10% of the population. The USA is not going to be involved in killing 10% of the iraqi population, not in a couple of years. So those people will survive and will vote. We can kill thousands of them but not enough to reduce the size of their voting block much at all. For that we’d have to kill at least hundreds of thousands.

If we don’t like the way they think we need to persuade them otherwise. That’s the democratic way. Killing Sadr won’t help that.

But Sadr says it’s a puppet government, he says it’s rigged. He’s at least partly right, the nondemocratic 100-person assembly for the IG is designed to make it much easier for members to win elections fot the TG. He can run as an outsider and win a lot of seats, but what if he boycots the election and announces to everybody that it’s still a puppet government?

Maybe he should be asked what he things would be needed for a democratic government. He wants the US troops out, what else does he want? Maybe the changes he’d want to believe it’s really representative government are things the IG would agree to.

54

Dan Hardie 08.16.04 at 9:14 am

On behalf of every sane, non-anti-Semitic person here, especially those who want to hear from Iraqi and Iranian posters about the Middle East, thank you very much Abbas for your comments. ‘Lance Boyle”s remarks are utterly disgusting: if you don’t have the guts to post under your real name, pal, choose a better pseudonym: ‘Pathological Jew-hater’ is my first suggestion.

Comments on this entry are closed.