In our last post at ITM we briefly mentioned a statement in which Sadr’s office accused Iran of hosting and assisting al-Qaeda, today I’ll talk about that statement in more detail.
The claim itself is not strange. What’s strange is whom it came from. Sadr was the last voice we’d expect to say such a thing. Accusing Iran of interfering in Iraq’s affairs is one thing, but accusing it of hosting and assisting al-Qeada is a whole new ballgame. It opens the door for speculation and analysis, especially since Sadr only weeks ago returned from a long stay in Iran in which he was a guest of the top leaders of the Islamic Republic. So why make this statement now?
Some say that the many accusations in and outside of Iraq that Sadr is Iran’s man forced his hand in an effort to distance himself from suspicion. But Sadr’s words do not support this theory because, as previously mentioned, he could have just said that Iran is maliciously interfering in Iraq. When the accusation went beyond that to link al-Qaeda with Iran it became a serious claim that put Iran, his ally, in a very embarrassing position. Are we seeing signs of a breakup? If so, is this breakup coming from an emerging conscience or patriotic feelings on Sadr’s part?
In my opinion, patriotic feelings have no role in answering this question. At the same time, there’s more at work here than Sadr’s attempt to distract from his alliance with Iran. A cleric such as Sadr believes in a revolutionary ideology with strictly defined tenets of absolute right and absolute wrong. Patriotic goals represent only a step towards imposing this absolute vision on everyone. Islamists do not believe in a homeland, they believe in a ‘Dar al-Islam’ (House of Islam) that will eventually encompass the whole world.
If we look at the articles written by Mr. Marwani (the consultant at the Cultural Supervision Committee of the Martyr Sadr office), and these are frequently published on the web, we see that his signature is followed by the words “From Baghdad, the occupied capital of the world.” In a way this means that the world, not Iraq alone, is the goal in their ideology and literature, and the “Mowatti’o al-Mahdai” (those who pave the way for the Imam Mahdi) led by Moqtada, will lead the Imam’s army to every point in the world spreading justice.
Then what made Moqtada go in the direction he did?
It was the result of factors that accumulated over time, and matured during his visit to Tehran. Sadr finally realized that his role was only second or third to that of the SIIC of Hakim, or the Dawa Part. A situation that a young revolutionary leader who won all his fame and clout in just a few short years couldn’t tolerate. In those years his name, and his army, rocketed upward in the media headlines and proved a powerful presence on the ground. Realizing that he’s being treated as a #2 made the ambitious, poorly educated youngster lose his balance. And he had little balance to give, compared to the older big-names who have extensive experience in the political world.
The publicity he got and the power he thinks he has put him in a position of accepting nothing less than being #1. This probably explains his attempts to reach out to some Sunni politicians as a more inclusive alternative, he thinks, to what the Dawa or SIIC offer.
The battles for control in the southern provinces and the manner in which smuggling money is being distributed showed Sadr how secondary his role is. Now he knows that his invitation to the political process and acceptance into the UIA was no more than a political lollipop to calm him down, or he’s finally seeing that his movement’s popularity was exploited to win ballots for other UIA members.
Here appear the signs of a rift that will be difficult for Shia leaders to work around, because winning over a man like Sadr with compromises doesn’t seem possible at this stage. His frustration and ambitions will not leave much room for negotiation.
Sadr believes he’s the strongman now, the one who deserves to rule Iraq. At least according to what one hears his followers say in Baghdad. Even though his pretensions to power clearly exaggerate reality, the Sadrists continue to say that they can take over Baghdad in ten hours if ordered to.
Sadr’s overestimation of his own power and popularity is likely to make the situation more complicated. As for Iran, well, Iran doesn’t care much about particular names and faces as long as they’re a part of the chaos.
And this rift will surely add to the chaos Iran desires, even though the accusation of assisting al-Qaeda suggests that the chaos could touch Iran as well. Playing with fire can sometimes get you burned.
Mohammed Fadhil is PJM Baghdad editor; his own blog is Iraq the Model