BAGHDAD - It may have been inevitable, but the Shi'ite uprising in Iraq that
began on Sunday was no surprise to those listening to Iraq's Shi'ite population
and was provoked by American actions so irresponsible they almost seem
deliberate. The followers of the Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, known
as the second martyr after he was murdered by Saddam Hussein agents in 1999,
led by his son Muqtada al-sadr, as well as former students of Iraq's most
revered ayatollah, have warned of the impending "revolution" for many months.
Seyid Kadhim al-Haeri, the grand Ayatollah's top student, currently living in
Iranian exile, issued a bayan, or announcement, posted on the walls of
Shi'ite towns throughout Iraq in March. The purpose of the bombings in Baghdad
and Karbala on March 2 in which scores of Shi'ites were killed, he said, was
"to divide the Iraqi people, and this is a service offered to the occupation so
it can better control Iraq using the law of divide and conquer". Haeri
permitted his followers to "spill the blood" of the perpetrators, who were
enemies of Allah and the Prophet Mohammed. "You have to clean your country from
these dirty people," he said, "and terminate them so the country will be
Haeri urged Iraqis to demand elections "instead of letting the Americans toy
with your lovely country. Today there is no tyrant greater than America." Haeri
condemned the "slavery" Iraqis were living under and predicted that "the day
will come when we will expel the occupation forces the same way we expel dogs
and pigs". He added that this day was very close.
In reaction to the current Shi'ite uprising, Haeri warned the Americans to
cease "these reckless actions", adding that he had known from the beginning of
the occupation that the Americans had not come to liberate Iraq and were
"making war on the [Shi'ite] community, humiliating them, jailing their clerics
and followers, killing their children ... in the name of freedom and
Mohammad Sadiq Sadr established a network of followers in Iraqi towns and
villages during the 1990s. Immediately following the collapse of the Ba'ath
regime a year ago, his last remaining son, Muqtada, who had been living in
hiding, capitalized on this vast network to establish offices of his
representatives throughout the country, seizing mosques and religious centers
as well. After the March 2 bombings, Muqtada's centers, as well as compact disc
(CD) stores in every Shi'ite neighborhood, offered a video CD of the events in
Baghdad's Kadhimiya district, where one of the bomb attacks took place. Anyone
seeing these CDs would have known what Americans should expect.
The film, shot by a member of Muqtada's militia, called Jeish Mahdi,
or the army of the Mahdi, begins by showing the shocked people outside the
Kadhim shrine. Pick-up trucks and ambulances carry piles of dead bodies, people
are crying, hugging each other, and a loudspeaker asks people to leave the
shrine. There are many shouts of "Alahu Akbar", or "God is great!" Some people
are standing and sobbing, others have their hands on their heads, and some slap
their faces as Iraqi Red Crescent society ambulances drive by. "The infidels!"
somebody shouts as guards with machine guns stand around helplessly. The street
is full of empty slippers of the dead and wounded.
The mosque loudspeaker says: "We blame the Americans, let's expel the
Americans, let's unite to expel them from Iraq, let's unite as one religion."
Empty blood-stained stretchers are returned to pick up more bodies, and then
about four American Humvees, a truck, two armored personnel carriers and a
medical vehicle clearly marked with a Red Cross arrive with American and Iraqi
soldiers on foot patrol next to them. "Throw shoes at them," somebody shouts as
more and more shoes rain down on the soldiers and then stones, bricks and
branches are hurled at the soldiers, who get in their vehicles.
The Americans shoot in the air. "La ilaha il Allah!" people shout, "There is no
God but Allah." A confused soldier on top of a vehicle swings back and forth
with his gun, not knowing which way to turn. The Americans retreat two
kilometers back to their base as the mob of many thousands chases after them.
One cleric shouts" "Go back, this is chaos, don't fight the Americans." But he
is ignored. One man walks by the camera showing large stones in his hands that
he will throw at the Americans.
In front of the base, stones are thrown at the tanks and Humvees and the
soldiers get inside the tank and reverse into the base, as a woman shouts "God
is great!" and some clerics try to stop people, but are ignored. Men pick up
bricks from a large pile and stroll casually towards the base, where thousands
of them crowd in front of the gate. They throw stones, bricks and sticks and
try to pull down
the barbed wire. They wave flags over the base walls and dance on top of them,
taunting the Americans, waving fists and shouting. Some jump inside the base.
For 10 minutes this continues and then shots are fired and some of the crowd
runs away. "The bastard Americans made the explosions," someone shouts. "By our
spirits and by our blood we will sacrifice ourselves for the Hawza," some men
shout. A voice on the loudspeakers from inside the base calls: "I am an Iraqi
and your brother, the Americans have told me 'if your brothers will not leave
the base they will be shot' please leave the base, they are serious!"
"We sacrifice ourselves for you Husein," people sing in reference to a revered
Shi'ite figure, and then more shots are fired. Some leave, but hundreds remain
throwing stones. American smoke bombs go off, yellow, purple and green, hiding
the walls and scaring some people off. "It's a miracle," someone shouts, "the
Americans shot the gasses at us and God stopped the air so the gas wont come to
the demonstrators!" The CD was being sold as an example of the first Shi'ite
victory over the Americans.
I bought my copy of the CD in eastern Baghdad's Shaab district in the Shuhada
Huseiniya, or Shi'ite mourning center. A mourning procession organized by
Muqtada's army had just gone by, led by singers and drum beaters, with
thousands of young men wearing black clothing and with green ribbons on their
heads, beating themselves with chains, followed by small children, who were not
beating to the rhythm. Surrounding the procession were armed militia members,
with pictures of Muqtada and his father on their shirts.
Inside the Huseiniya, a book store sells posters of Muqtada, his father, Seyid
Kadhim al-Haeri and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian
revolution of 1979. Books about Khomeini are on sale, such as Revolution in the
ideology of Khomeini. The books of Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr are
available, elaborating on his theories of state. He envisioned himself as the
general wali, or leader, of the clergy, a position higher than the
supreme ayatollah in Iran, and he believed he should lead the Shi'ites of the
world, heading an Islamic government in Iraq. Other books on sale included The
political organization of the Zionist entity and Establishing Israel
between lies and Western imperialism.
Inside, Seyid Usama al-Musawi, from Diwaniya, led local followers in their
daily prayers, including chants in support of Muqtada. Seyid Usama has been
representing Muqtada in this neighborhood for eight months. "Even the Americans
would not accept an occupation," he said, quoting Jesus Christ threatening to
use the sword and fire. "When America came to Iraq it spoke of freedom and
democracy," he said, "but America is interfering in many issues not related to
its military affairs. We know democracy means the people will decide their
future and until now we have not seen democracy and there is no democracy in
Iraq. We don't accept any constitution except the word of God. Our constitution
is the Koran and only the Koran can decide our future." Seyid Usama quoted the
Prophet Mohammed that "whoever does not follow God is not a Muslim and is a
tyrant". He added that Seyid Kadhim al-Haeri in Iran should return to Iraq to
be the wali al-faqih, or supreme jurisprudent, a position first held in
Iran by Ayatollah Khomeini.
In every Shi'ite neighborhood in Iraq the same literature is sold, along with
CDs of Muqtada's sermons, and even some of his father's. The Americans closed
Muqtada's newspaper, al-Hhawza al-Natika al-Sharifa", a weekly. His office also
publishes a quarterly journal called al-mada, roughly translated as The View.
Along with poems, the journal's chapters elaborate on Mohammed Sadiq Sadr's
theories and contain many images of the martyr.
The latest edition contained articles about the Americans and Jews as well:
"The Zionists think they are God's chosen people to control the planet and
enslave the others. They changed God's words in their bible to make it say
that. In the 18th century the West began using divide and conquer to control
the world, especially the Muslim world. Jews took advantage of this and started
controlling the West and every institution and decision-making organization,
military, religious, political, cultural, economic, employment, all merged with the
Zionist institution and Israel gains from this. It became easier for Jews to
establish their own government in Jerusalem. This is the new world order that
the US wants to achieve through globalization, which aims to make all the world
Jewish, not in religion but in behavior. In 1972, in New York City [Jewish
leader] Martin Segal spoke of the Jewish century when the intellect will
dominate passion and we will create forces and movements against nationalities
to create a new world and 'Judaicize' the Christians because they will be the
tool we will use to transform society into Jews."
A second article was also about globalization and the Zionist conspiracy:
"Globalization means all religions will die but Zionism will remain." It states
that "globalization competes with Islam because Islam was the only global
religion". An article about Mohammed Sadiq Sadr's "Third theory of politics and
religion" urges Shi'ites to be revolutionaries. Other articles deal with
depleted uranium weapons and their effects on Iraq, media manipulation, and
The December 2003 edition of al-Mada is similar, starting with an article about
a conspiracy that changed the original purity of Islam and followed by an
article entitled "Separation of religion from state, is it secularism or
oppression?" The article explains that "secularists refuse to obey God". Other
articles deal with Islamic values, Mohammed Sadiq Sadr's theory of Islamic
economics and the dangers of individualism, views of Islamic Utopia and the
coming of the mahdi, or messiah.
Al-Mada's office was closed along with al-Hhawza newspaper, which taught Iraqis
that "we are still under the rule of Saddam but with an American face". "The
police should stop protecting the occupation forces from the Iraqi armed
resistance", and "America hates Islam and Muslims".
In his sermons in recent months, Muqtada warned Americans that his followers
were "ready to attack the enemy [the Americans]", reminding them of the 1920
uprising against the British and the 1991 intifada against the Ba'ath regime,
and often stating that "America came to harm Islam". Muqtada told his followers
that "we don't trust America, not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow". He also
quoted the Koran in support of terror against the enemies of Islam.
Seyid Hasan Naji al-Musawi, the head of the Mahdi Army in Baghdad and also the
head of the Muhsin mosque in the Shi'ite bastion
of Sadr City, has for some time been gleefully announcing that "the jihad
against America will soon begin", explaining his belief that "the Americans
came to Iraq to kill the Mahdi" but the Mahdi would instead soon arrive and
kill the Americans and Jews.
Sheikh Jawad al-Khalisi, a representative of Muqtada in Kadhimiya, led a joint
demonstration with Sunni leader Sheikh Abdul Salam al-Kubeisi following Friday
prayers. Banners were carried demanding the release of Iraqi prisoners in
Coalition Provisional Authority jails. They called for Islamic unity and said
"no Sunnism no Shi'ism, united Islam". Both leaders made statements demanding
that the international community and human rights organizations help the Iraqi
people end the occupation and get sovereignty to elect their representatives.
The Friday prayer leader in the Kadhim shrine, Sheikh Hazem al-Araji, told his
listeners that "all the world expected us to celebrate the first anniversary of
the occupation", condemning the occupation and warning that "the Iraqi people
are ready to fight" the Americans.
Other voices to be heard
Another student of Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, Sheikh Muhamad al-Yaqubi, has promoted
himself to an ayatollah and leads the Fudhala Party which is a rival to
Muqtada's movement. Yaqubi targeted universities, seeking a more educated
following. In his books he has labeled America as the awar al dajal, or
the Muslim version of the anti-Christ.
In March, Yaqubi signed a joint document with the Iraqi Dawa Party, the Islamic
Accord Movement of Shirazi, the Islamic Action Party of Ayatollah Mudarisi, and
the Democratic Islamic Current. "The new constitution is disappointing," the
document begins, "and does not satisfy even the minimum of the Iraqi people's
desires because it has many big holes which will lead the country to
instability and which will keep the country bound with transitional laws and
prevent us from having a permanent constitution because they gave a veto to
three governorates which will make them able to reject any permanent
constitution chosen by the majority of Iraqi governorates. This will make the
transitional stage longer and longer and may lead to pushing the country to
political and constitutional problems and maybe we will not be able to solve
these problems peacefully [a reference to civil war]." The document condemns
"the constitution that is written by an unelected council", adding that "we
declare that this constitution is illegal so the elected legislature in the
future or now cannot be forced to follow it because it is illegal ... we are
calling on the Iraqi people to continue peaceful political action".
Another Yaqubi letter to his followers calls on "educated people to be more
active", thanking them for already being active and complimenting their
performance during Ashura, "where events were led by university students and
teachers" and praising them for striking in protest of the interim
constitution. "The decision makers fear the educated people," Yaqubi writes,
"because one demonstration of one thousand educated people is more important
than a demonstration of ten thousand other people".
A Yaqubi announcement also made in March warned that "they [Americans] want to
make the universities Western. They try to poison the universities with
immorality and they changed the courses and they separated students from the
religious leaders and their actual leaders. They thought the universities would
fold in their hands and there was no place for Islam there but the students
proved their Islamic awareness and identity in Ashura. I expected from the IGC
[Iraqi Governing Council] members, God help them, to respect the demands of
these millions of students."
Yaqubi's supporters have been leading Friday prayers in Fardos Circle in
central Baghdad, closing the city's main streets and filling them with
thousands of faithful in a display that leaves no doubts to Iraqis as to who
controls the city. In the end of March, Yaqubi supporters demanded control the
ministry of defense.
Every Shi'ite neighborhood in Iraq is dominated by posters and paintings of
Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, his relative and father of political Shi'ism Muhamad Baqir
Sadr and also Muqtada Sadr. In Sadr City, named after the second martyr after
the war last year, stores sell sermons of the Sadrs, as well as posters. One
typical store was covered outside with pictures of Shi'ite celebrities,
including Ayatollah Khomeini. Inside, the manager, Satar, sat behind his
computer making copies of CDs. "The American occupation is no better than
Saddam," he said, "One completes the other." He was not worried about chaos
should the Americans leave, explaining that the Shi'ite clergy of the Hawza, or
Shi'ite clerical academy, would lead Iraq. He, too, believed that America came
to fight the Mahdi. "We belong to the army of the Mahdi," he said, explaining
that it was an ideological army, but that they were all armed. To make his
point he reached under his desk to remove a pistol and Kalashnikov and casually
waved them about.
Satar's employee Jalil had spent two years in a Ba'athist prison for selling
tapes of subversive sermons. "Saddam left and his teacher replaced him," he
said. He was waiting for orders from the clergy to begin the revolution against
the Americans. "We are waiting for Muqtada to order us to resist the
Americans." His friend Sheikh Jalil, who wore a t-shirt emblazoned with a
picture of the second martyr, bragged that "when we begin resisting the
Americans will leave in less than 20 days". Jalil explained that "Iraq is the
capital of the Mahdi and the center of Islam and they [Americans] want to
destroy Islam. They fear the Mahdi."
The closure of Muqtada's newspaper on March 28 was America's first blunder,
leading to the current crisis, a move that only further alienated his followers
and satisfied Muqtada, who hoped America would punish him, increasing his
prestige and following among Shi'ites whose sect is preoccupied with martyrdom
and resisting oppression. Arresting Muqtada's influential associate Mustafa
al-Yaqubi incensed his supporters (as well as the Spanish troops in Najaf who
did not know about the planned arrest), and Muqtada has taken refuge in his
mosque in Kufa, surrounded by his supporters.
Before escaping inside his mosque, Muqtada urged his followers to "make your
enemy afraid", assuring them that he was with them and would not abandon them.
"Your enemy loves terror and hates peoples, all the Arabs and censors
opinions." He asked his followers to help him in any way they could. Sheikh
Hadhim al-Araji, a representative of Muqtada in Baghdad, condemned Americans
and the Iraqi Governing Council as infidels. In Shi'ite towns throughout Iraq
coalition troops were attacked. In some cases Sunnis from the west were seen
carrying rocket-propelled grenades together with their Shi'ite brethren, united
in fighting the hated occupiers.
Professor Amazia Baram of the university of Haifa, an expert on Iraq currently
working in the Washington DC think-tank, the US Institute of Peace and
consulting the US government, warned before the Shi'ite rebellion started that
these are "the most dangerous days of the coalition presence in Iraq", adding
that should the Shi'ites begin resisting the Americans, there would be nothing
left for them to do but leave the country.
The coalition believes that arresting Muqtada will end the resistance. But
arresting or killing him will make no difference. Muqtada is seeking martyrdom
and has been seeking an apocalypse. The problem is not a single individual. The
problem is the occupation, and this week things got much worse for the Iraqi
people and their occupiers. In Iran before the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini
and his supporters condemned the hated Shah as Yazid, the murderer of Husein,
the leader of the Shi'ites whom they mourned during Ashura.
In Lebanon, the Shi'ite resistance called the Israeli occupier Yazid. During
Ashura, banners in Karbala declared that America was the new Yazid. Other
banners warned of Husein's revenge that would soon remove the Americans. Iraq's
Shi'ites were expected by the planners of the war to rejoice at their
liberation. The rejection of the Koran as the main source of the constitution
began a process of alienation leading to the current fighting. But one must
ask, how could the Americans be so stupid to provoke the Shi'ite majority three
months before the planned handover of sovereignty back to the Iraqi people?
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