Interview of Moqtada al-Sadr
From Italian newspaper La Repubblica, English translation here. (Hat tip: Juan Cole).
First question is to how PM Maliki, who until recently was considered a supporter of Sadr has turned on him and the Mahdi Army.
Between me and Abú Asárá [al-Malikí] there has never been much good will. I have always suspected he was up to something and I never confided in him. We only met a couple of times. The last time he said to me, "You are the backbone of the country," and then went on to admit to me that he was "obliged" to fight. Obliged, you see?Sounds a little cagey too me, but the "obliged" reference is to Maliki as stooge of the Americans. Sadr has called consistently since the fall of Saddam for the Americans out. This week Sadr's politicians who were in protest of the government have returned and his men have melted back into the grounds and have strict orders from Moqtada not to pick a fight with the Americans.
Interestingly Sadr claims he is doing this because it is the Holy Month (Muharram) and fighting during the Pilgrimage month is forbidden in the Qu'ran:
MS: The Qur’án forbids killing in the month of Muharram [21 January through 18 February 2007]. So they'll do all the killing then. There is no better time for a true believer to die, Paradise is guaranteed. But God is merciful, we are not all going to die. After Muharram, we'll see.Sadr then talks about how his is being targeted, has to sleep in a different location every night, has sent his family into hiding for fear of their murder and expects martyrdom anytime soon.
Q8 considers the charge that his men were behind the now infamous (via cellphone video and Youtube) execution of Saddam Hussein where hooded men tell Hussein that Moqtada is behind this.
Moqtada responds (underline in original):
They were people paid to discredit me. To make me look like the person really responsible for that hanging. Listen to the audio again, the proof is that in reciting my prayer they left out some basic passages. Stuff that not even a child in Sadr City would ever have done.Again that might be some propaganda on his part. I can't verify or disverify that statement and haven't seen any who would know tackle the question. It is well known that up to a 1/3 of the Mahdi Army is out of Sadr's control and now apparently, according to Sadr himself, has been infiltrated just as they have infiltrated the police and army.
The next question, 9 is possibly the most revealing about his war with the Sunnis.
It is true that we are all Muslims and all sons of the same country, but they must first distance themselves from the Saddamites, from the radical groups, from men like Bin Ladin, over and above just repeating their "No" to the Americans. The only thing that will be enough is for their ulema to accept our conditions [and issue a fatwa against killing Shiites]. So far they have not done so.
The Saddamites is code for Baathists (sounds like sodomites translated this way). The radicals are Salafi jihadists from outside of Iraq mostly who are the main purveyors of suicide bombing according to Peter Bergen.
The ulema are the Sunni Muslim scholars and Sadr almost certainly means here the Association of Muslim Scholars. In late 2005/early 2006 Sadr wrote a message to the Association telling to declare a fatwa (religious ruling) on Sunnis killing Shia--Sadr I think wanted to join forces in an anti-American insurgency Shia and Sunni together--but the Association responded that they would be killed by the al-Qaeda in Iraq. [Again echoing Bergen's statement that al-Qaeda in Iraq might possibly be the largest group in the region--this is not all together clear and whether this al-Qaeda would want to promote attacks on American soil. I think they are more likely to attack neighboring regimes like Jordan, Iran, the Shia Iraq gov't, the Kurds, the Syrians, who knows]. Either way after the Association turned down Sadr's request, Sadr told his men to fight the Sunnis, particularly after the Samarra mosque bombing.
But most interesting of all, a charge I had not heard before, that Sadr repeats at least twice in the interview, that the real power behind the throne is Ayad Allawi, the former Prime Minister, currently living in exile, a secular Shia cum Baathist during the Hussein years. [Sadr is against re-entrance of Baathists to the government]. Don't know if this is just conspiracy thinking on his part or what--but I hadn't heard anything of this sort before.
Finally I'll end with a fairly chilling V-like quote from Sadr himself:
But even should I have to die, the Mahdi would continue to exist. Men can be killed, but not faith and ideas.