Iraq: Family, Faith, Force

When coalition forces entered Iraq last year to deal with Saddam Hussein’s regime, few in the international community had heard of Muqtada al-Sadr. So great has been the impact of the militia he controls, his is now a household name, but where does his power originate?

The World Today Published 1 October 2004 Updated 19 October 2020 4 minute READ

Faleh Jabar

Senior Fellow, US Institute of Peace

Barely three months after the transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government, is the macabre mayhem triggered in August, by the Hawza Movement, led by the young, radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr still a threat? Though battered, his militia, the Mahdi army – Mahdi is the Messiah in Shi’a theology – is still armed and fighting. Efforts to draw it into peaceful, institutional politics have so far been futile.

Militia leaders have declined to decommission their weapons on various grounds: this is an army of twelfth, or hidden, Imam and it is only he who can dissolve it. They also argue that this is not an army, rather the militiamen are volunteers using their own personal firearms (including rocket launchers and mortars!); or that it is purely a self-defence force. Unless decommissioning is achieved, fresh fighting is to be expected anytime, anywhere.

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