Jan 10, 2011
In early January, Muqtada al-Sadr returned to Iraq after spending four years in exile in Iran. In return for pledging his support for the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his party had been promised the control of six ministries, as well as the leadership of a province. Hundreds of Sadr’s supporters were also supposed to be released from prison.
Sadr, the son of a famous Shiite cleric who had been assassinated under the regime of Saddam Hussein, heads a religious fundamentalist party, as well as a militia, called the Mahdi Army. Sadr’s base of support is in some of the worst slums in Baghdad and southern Iraq. In 2004, the U.S. military issued an arrest warrant for Sadr and then carried out two bloody battles against the Mahdi army. In 2007, the U.S. and Iraqi army once again carried out a big offensive to try to crush Sadr and the Mahdi Army, also without success. Working with the U.S., the neighboring Iranian government finally arranged a cease fire and Sadr’s exile.
Of course, politically, Sadr’s party and militia are as reactionary as the other fundamentalists. It has been responsible for horrific ethnic cleansing in different parts of Baghdad, and it has imposed some of the worst oppression of women. But the resistance of Sadr’s militia to the attacks of the U.S. and Iraqi government has allowed Sadr to pose as a nationalist and an opponent of the U.S. occupation.
In the March 2010 national election, Sadr’s party won 40 seats in the parliament, a small, but important minority. U.S. officials had pictured these elections as a step in bringing a new government to Iraq with democratic trappings. In fact, all the elections did was lay bare all the rivalries and factions, most likely exacerbating a simmering civil war complete with terrorist attacks, assassinations and car bombings.
For months after the elections, no Iraqi politician was able to cobble together a ruling majority. The two biggest electoral factions both courted Sadr’s support. Sadr was first reported to support a coalition led by Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister. But when Sadr switched his support to Prime Minister al-Maliki, al-Maliki was able then to get support from his electoral rival Allawi and Kurdish organizations. Thus, he finally was able to form a government.
Of course, this political maneuvering and fighting has already taken nine months – and it’s obviously not over, since al-Maliki has still not even named the heads of the most important ministries, including security, interior, defense, etc. Neither has the ethnic violence receded – as the recent bombings of Iraqi Christian churches illustrate.
All these rivalries are little more than a product of the U.S. war and occupation, and U.S. efforts to play all the different factions off against each other in order to turn Iraq and its extremely rich oil resources into a virtual colony. It is the people of Iraq, the rest of the Middle East ... and the ordinary population in the U.S. who pay the horrific price.