The name Sadr is not just the name of a rebellious ‘upstart’, nor should it be construed as such; it is in fact a highly regarded name within Iraq’s Shia community. With a lineage dating back to the daughter of the final Prophet of Islam, the Sadr name has been intimately linked with some of the key leaders within the Shia community. In more recent times, the last Grand Ayatollah Sadr and two of his sons were assassinated by friends of Saddam Hussein in 1999. From a western perspective, this would almost equate to the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope being assassinated.
From this august family comes Muqtada al-Sadr, the chief protagonist in leading Shia violence in Iraq. Leaning upon his family’s name, rather than intellectual or moral (or religious) authority, it was not surprising that he received significant followings within his community. And throughout his supporters was a significant core of violent criminal gangs, although it would be incorrect to assume that he fully controlled them.
Dealing with Sadr has been a difficult task for the Coalition (I particularly recall this from my time there in 2004) and sadly many people have died as a result of his destabilising activities. The challenge since late 2003 has been the issue of negating or marginalising his influence and power base without making him a significant rallying call for Iraq’s Shia populace. On one level it is a shame that the Coalition failed to achieve this; however in the context of Iraq’s political landscape, that is a good thing.
The best solution for dealing with Muqtada was always going to be an Iraqi-led solution. It has taken a few years for the opportunity to properly arise for this to occur and it is fantastic to see Nouri al Maliki step up to the challenge along with Iraq’s security forces. While not an overnight process, Sadr is becoming marginalised within Iraq without becoming a martyr. The writing is on the wall for him – it is becoming clearer that he no longer has the power that people felt, and in a place where power is everything, his prestige and ability to influence will wain.
It has been quite remarkable to see some of the recent MSM (mainstream media) reports suggesting that Maliki’s actions are a failure. That is quite a ridiculous assertion. Iraq’s public institutions are not perfect, nor are the branches of government. But here we see a new democratically elected legislature (that is majority Shia) dictating a decision to the executive (military and police) which is being enacted; sure, it isn’t perfect, but then it is pretty good for a government that has been around for barely a few years. The recent operation had a number of tactical failures (as do many military operations), but strategically it was a great success.
Getting rid of Sadr is not going to happen overnight, but slowly and in a very Iraq way, it will happen.