Monday, November 27, 2006

Sadr Nation

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Must-read: Jeffrey Bartholet has written a comprehensive cover story on Moqtada al-Sadr, the immensely powerful populist, nationalist, Islamic radical, Shiite leader, and mobster (all "rolled into one") who just "may end up deciding America's fate in Iraq".

A few key passages:

  • "More than anyone, Sadr personifies the dilemma Washington faces: If American troops leave Iraq quickly, militia leaders like Sadr will be unleashed as never before, and full-scale civil war could follow. But the longer the American occupation lasts, the less popular America gets—and the more popular Sadr and his ilk become."
  • "Sadr still insists his main fight is with foreign invaders. He's the one Shia leader who has opposed the U.S. occupation from the beginning, and who has continued to call for a strict timetable for American withdrawal. An overwhelming majority of Iraqis now agree with him."
  • "A key source of Sadr's income is Muslim tithes—or khoms—collected at mosques. But his militiamen also run extortion and protection rackets—demanding money to keep certain businesses and individuals 'safe.'"
  • "He's a militant Islamist and anti-occupation, they say, but he's also a nationalist, and not as close to Iran as some of his rivals. Nobody knows whether Sadr is dissembling when he speaks about Iraqi unity, or preparing for all-out war. What is clear—more today than ever before—is that it's time to stop underestimating him."
It's a fascinating piece. Take the time to read it.

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