Posted by: Lister | July 20, 2007

Sadr sets up as NGO

From the NY times:

After months of lying low, the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has re-emerged with a shrewd strategy that reaches out to Iraqis on the street while distancing himself from the increasingly unpopular government.

[…] Mr. Sadr has been working tirelessly to build support at the grass-roots level, opening storefront offices across Baghdad and southern Iraq that dispense services that are not being provided by the government. In this he seems to be following the model established by Hezbollah, the radical Lebanese Shiite group, as well as Hamas in Gaza, with entwined social and military wings that serve as a parallel government.

He has also extended the reach of his militia, the Mahdi Army, one of the armed groups that the White House report acknowledged remain entrenched in Iraq. The militia has effectively taken over vast swaths of the capital and is fighting government troops in several southern provinces. Although the militia sometimes uses brutal tactics, including death squads, many vulnerable Shiites are grateful for the protection it affords.

At the same time, the Mahdi Army is not entirely under Mr. Sadr’s control, and he publicly denounces the most notorious killers fighting in his name. That frees him to extend an olive branch to Sunni Arabs and Christians, while championing the Shiite identity of his political base.

On May 25, in his first public Friday Prayer in months, he explicitly forbade sectarian attacks.

“It is prohibited to spill the blood of Sunnis and Iraqi Christians,” he told Shiites in a much publicized sermon. “They are our brothers, either in religion or in the homeland.”

[…] His basic tenets are widely shared. Like most Iraqis, he opposes the American military presence and wants a timetable for departure — if only to attain some certainty that the Americans will leave eventually. He wants the country to stay unified and opposes the efforts of those Shiites who have had close ties to Iran to create a semiautonomous Shiite region in southern Iraq.

[…] Experts in Shiite politics believe that efforts to isolate Mr. Sadr are bound to fail.

“Sadr holds the political center in Iraq,” said Joost Hiltermann, the director of the International Crisis Group’s office in Amman, Jordan. “They are nationalist, they want to hold the country together and they are the only political organization that has popular support among the Shias. If you try to exclude him from any alliance, well, it’s a nutty idea, it’s unwise.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: