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Along with Ali al-Sistani and Ammar al-Hakim of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Sadr is one of the most influential religious and political figures in the country, despite not holding any official title in the Iraqi government. He is the leader of a political party, the Sadrist Movement. The powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has withdrawn from politics,on February 18, 2014, dismantling his influential political movement in a move that has stunned his followers and handed a pre-election boost to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
He is of the prominent Sadr family originating from Jabal Amel in Lebanon but later settled in Najaf, his father-in-law being Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr. He is often referred to as Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr. The title Sayyid ("Mr." or "Sir") is generally used among Muslims related to Mohammed through his daughter Fatimah's marriage with Ali. Thus a great deal of respect is paid by the Muslims to the Sayyids throughout society.
Western media often refer to Muqtada al-Sadr as a "firebrand" or "militant" cleric, but his formal religious standing is comparatively low, at a mid-ranking Shia religious rank perhaps reflecting his young age, and he does not claim the title of mujtahid (the equivalent of a senior religious scholar) or the authority to issue fatwas. In early 2008, however, al-Sadr was reported to be studying to be an ayatollah, which would greatly improve his religious standing.
Muqtada al-Sadr is of Iraqi and Iranian ancestry. His great-grandfather is Ismail as-Sadr. Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, Muqtada al-Sadr's father, was a respected figure throughout the Shi'a Islamic world. He was murdered, along with two of his sons, allegedly by the government of Saddam Hussein. Muqtada's father-in-law was executed by the Iraqi authorities in 1980. Muqtada is a cousin of the disappeared Musa al-Sadr, the Iranian-Lebanese founder of the popular Amal Movement.
Al-Sadr commands strong support (especially in the Sadr City district in Baghdad, formerly named Saddam City but renamed after the elder al-Sadr). After the fall of the Saddam government in 2003, Muqtada al-Sadr organized thousands of his supporters into a political movement, which includes a military wing known as the Jaysh al-Mahdi or Mahdi Army). The name refers to the Mahdi, a long-since disappeared Imam who is believed by Shi'a Muslims to be due to reappear when the end of time approaches. This group has periodically engaged in violent conflict with the United States and other Coalition forces, while the larger Sadrist movement has formed its own religious courts, and organized social services, law enforcement, and prisons in areas under its control.
His strongest support comes from the class of dispossessed Shi‘a, like in the Sadr City area of Baghdad. Many Iraqi supporters see in him a symbol of resistance to foreign occupation.
In a statement received by AFP on the 15th February, 2014, Sadr announced the closure of all offices, centers and associations affiliated with Al-Shaheed Al-Sadr inside and outside Iraq, he announced his non-intervention in all political affairs, adding that no bloc will represent the movement inside or outside the government or parliament.
War in Iraq
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Shortly after the U.S.-led coalition ousted Saddam Hussein and his Ba'ath regime, al-Sadr voiced opposition to the Coalition Provisional Authority. He subsequently stated that he had more legitimacy than the Coalition-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. He granted his first major Western television interview to Bob Simon of 60 Minutes, in which al-Sadr famously said "Saddam was the little serpent, but America is the big serpent".
In his 2004 sermons and public interviews al-Sadr repeatedly demanded an immediate withdrawal of all U.S.-led coalition forces, all foreign troops under United Nations control, and the establishment of a new central Iraqi government, not connected to the Ba'ath party or the Allawi government.
In late March 2004, Coalition authorities (759th MP Battalion) in Iraq shut down Sadr's newspaper al-Hawza on charges of inciting violence. Sadr's followers held demonstrations protesting the closure of the newspaper. On April 4, fighting broke out in Najaf, Sadr City, and Basra. Sadr's Mahdi Army took over several points and attacked coalition soldiers, killing dozens of foreign soldiers, and taking many casualties of their own in the process. At the same time, Sunni rebels in the cities of Baghdad, Samarra, Ramadi, and, most notably, Fallujah, staged uprisings as well, causing the most serious challenge to coalition control of Iraq up to that time.
During the first siege of Fallujah in late March and April 2004, Muqtada's Sadrists sent aid convoys to the besieged Sunnis there.
That day Al Sadr called for a jihad against coalition forces. This young radical cleric's goal was to flex his muscles and establish himself an equal among the greybeards. To do this he needed to gain temporary control of Al Kut, An Najaf and the suburb of Baghdad named after his grandfather, Sadr City. On Thursday night, April 8, his Mahdi Militia dropped eight overspans and bridges around the Convoy Support Center Scania, thus severing northbound traffic into Baghdad. The next day, Good Friday, his Militia ambushed any and every convoy trying to get in or out of Baghdad International Airport, known to the soldiers as BIAP. This led to the worst convoy ambush of the war, the ambush of the 724th Transportation Company (POL), which resulted in eight KBR drivers killed and three soldiers killed. One was Matt Maupin who was initially listed as the first American soldier missing in action. These series of attacks demonstrated an unexpected level of sophistication in planning. While the Mahdi Militia knew they were no match for M1 Abrams tanks, they realized the soft underbelly of the tanks were the trucks they depended upon for everything they needed to fight with. BIAP was where the newly arrived 1st Cavalry Division drew its supplies. On Easter Sunday, April 11, the Militia launched an attack on the southwest wall at BIAP behind which several hundred trucks parked. A small force of less than a dozen truck drivers led by 2LT James McCormick held off the enemy for nearly 45 minutes. 30 Minutes after this fight, McCormick and his crew of the Humvee gun truck Zebra had to escort a convoy through a gauntlet of ambushes eight miles to the Green Zone. They divided the convoy into four serials and the Militia ambushed the first one. McCormick then changed his tactics for the second convoy serial to turn into the enemy and return fire. This inflicted casualties into the militia and by the third convoy serial the enemy fire had slackened and the last convoy serial was not molested. He would refine this "turn, fix and fire' tactic when he helped form the 518th Combat Gun Truck Company. Desperate for fuel, tanks and Strykers were pulled to escort fuel convoys north from Scania. By the end of April, the 1st Cavalry had broken the back of al Sadr's Uprising but he had achieved his goal of becoming a significant force for the coalition forces to deal with.
It is generally frowned upon in Iraq for clerics to actively participate in secular politics, and like the other leading religious figures Muqtada al-Sadr did not run in the 2005 Iraqi elections. It is believed he implicitly backed the National Independent Cadres and Elites party which was closely linked with the Mahdi Army. Many of his supporters, however, backed the far more popular United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) of al-Sistani.
On August 26, 2005, an estimated 100,000 Iraqis marched in support of al-Sadr and his ideals.
On March 25, 2006, Muqtada al-Sadr was in his home and escaped a mortar attack; this attack was disputed, as the ordnance landed more than 50 meters from his home.
Sadr’s considerable leverage was apparent early in the week of 16 October 2006, when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the release of one of Sadr’s senior aides. The aide had been arrested a day earlier by American troops on suspicion of participating in kidnappings and killings.
On February 13, several sources in the U.S. government claimed that Muqtada al-Sadr had left Iraq and fled to Iran in anticipation of the coming security crackdown. US military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell reinforced this account on February 14, but a member of Iraq's parliament and an aide to al-Sadr have denied the claims.
On March 30, it was reported that Sadr, through clerics speaking on his behalf, "delivered a searing speech...condemning the American presence in Iraq ... [and] call[ing] for an anti-occupation mass protest on April 9...." This call to protest was significant in that, since the beginning of the American troop surge (which began on February 14, 2007), Sadr had ordered his "militia to lie low during the new Baghdad security plan so as not to provoke a direct confrontation with the Americans".
Muqtada al-Sadr urged the Iraqi army and police to stop cooperating with the United States and told his guerrilla fighters to concentrate on pushing American forces out of the country, according to a statement issued Sunday, April 8, 2007.
The statement, stamped with al-Sadr's official seal, was distributed in the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Sunday 8 April 2007—a day before a large demonstration there, called for by al-Sadr, to mark the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.
"You, the Iraqi army and police forces, don't walk alongside the occupiers, because they are your arch-enemy", the statement said.
On April 17, 2007, several ministers loyal to al-Sadr left the Iraqi government. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stated that the withdrawal of these ministers had not weakened his government and that he would name technocrats to replace them soon.
On April 25, 2007, al-Sadr condemned the construction of Azamiyah wall around a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, by calling for demonstrations against the plan as a sign of "the evil will" of American "occupiers"
On May 25, 2007, al-Sadr delivered a sermon to an estimated 6,000 followers in Kufa. Sadr reiterated his condemnation of the United States' occupation of Iraq and demanded the withdrawal of foreign forces, al-Sadr's speech also contained calls for unity between Sunni and Shi'a. In June 2007, al-Sadr vowed to go ahead with a planned march to the devastated Askariyya shrine in central Iraq, al-Sadr said the march was aimed at bringing Shi'is and Sunnis closer together and breaking down the barriers imposed by the Americans and Sunni religious extremists.
In a statement issued August 29, 2007, Muqtada al-Sadr announced that an order to stand down for six months had been distributed to his loyalists following the deaths of more than 50 Shia Muslim pilgrims during fighting in Karbala the day before. The statement issued by Sadr's office in Najaf said: "I direct the Mahdi army to suspend all its activities for six months until it is restructured in a way that helps honour the principles for which it is formed." The intention behind the ceasefire was thought in part to be to allow al-Sadr reassert control over the movement, which is thought to have splintered. "We call on all Sadrists to observe self-restraint, to help security forces control the situation and arrest the perpetrators and sedition mongers, and urge them to end all forms of armament in the sacred city", said the statement, referring to the August 28 clashes in Karbala. Asked if the unexpected order meant no attacks on American troops, as well as a ban on Shia infighting, a senior al-Sadr aide said: "All kinds of armed actions are to be frozen, without exception."
In August 2008, al-Sadr ordered most of his militiamen to disarm but said he will maintain elite fighting units to resist the Americans if a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops is not established. "Weapons are to be exclusively in the hands of one group, the resistance group", while another group called Momahidoun is to focus on social, religious and community work, Sadrist cleric Mudhafar al-Moussawi said.
In response to Israeli attacks on Gaza, al-Sadr called for reprisals against US troops in Iraq: "I call upon the honest Iraqi resistance to carry out revenge operations against the great accomplice of the Zionist enemy."
On May 1, 2009, al-Sadr paid a surprise visit to Ankara where, in his first public appearance for two years, he met with Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for talks which focused on the "political process" and requested Turkey play a greater role in establishing stability in the Middle East. Spokesman Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi confirmed the nature of the talks that had been requested by al-Sadr and stated, "Turkey is a good, old friend. Trusting that, we had no hesitation in travelling here." After the meeting al-Sadr visited supporters in Istanbul, where al-Obeidi says they may open a representative office.
In a press conference on 6 March 2010 ahead of the Iraqi parliamentary election, 2010, Muqtada al-Sadr called on all Iraqis to participate in the election and support those who seek to expel US troops out of the country. Al-Sadr warned that any interference by the United States will be unacceptable. Al-Sadr, who has thousands of staunch followers across Iraq has consistently opposed the presence of foreign forces and repeatedly called for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq.
On January 5, 2011, Muqtada al-Sadr returned to the Iraqi city of Najaf, in order to take a more proactive and visible role in the new Iraqi government. Three days later, thousands of Iraqis turned out in Najaf to hear his first speech since his return, in which he called the US, Israel, and the UK "common enemies" against Iraq. His speech was greeted by the crowd chanting "Yes, yes for Muqtada! Yes, yes for the leader!", whilst waving Iraqi flags and al-Sadr's pictures. Subsequently, he returned to Iran to continue his studies.
By late 2011, it appeared that the United States would largely withdraw from Iraq, a demand that helped make Sadr a popular leader amongst supporters almost immediately following the invasion. Sadr also controlled the largest bloc of parliament, and had reached a sort of détente with prime minister Nouri al Maliki, who needed Sadrist support to retain his post.
Following the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, al-Sadr continued to be an influential figure in Iraqi politics, associated with the Al-Ahrar bloc, whose Shi'a factions are still at war with not only the government but also the Sunni factions. However, whereas during the war al-Sadr was known for advocating violence, in 2012 he began to present himself as a proponent of moderation and tolerance and called for peace.
On February 18, 2014 The young cleric announced in a handwritten note posted on his movement’s website Sunday that he was immediately withdrawing from politics and dissolving the party structure to protect his family’s reputation. “I announce the closure of all offices and libraries in all religious, social and political fields,” the note read. “There is no (political) bloc that represents us from now on nor do we hold any positions inside or outside the government or parliament.”
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