Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The royal road to Qom

Moqtada al-Sadr's closeness with Iran means one unexpected consequence of the US-led invasion is a geopolitical boost for the Islamic Republic

By Mark Cist
(a photographer and journalist based in Tehran, Iran)
The Guardian

"......Sadr, like so many millions of Iraqis, detests the US-backed government of Nouri al-Maliki, and he coordinates his many followers while training to be an ayatollah. These things are important in the new Iraq. The man with the most say, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, doesn't much like the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei. Sistani regards him as lower down the Shia ranking. For Christians it's best to think of the Catholic church and rivalry between cardinals and not a little bit of Father Ted mixed in with Scarface.

The power of Moqtada al-Sadr stems from Saddam Hussein's destruction of the Iraqi Communist party, one of the largest in the Middle East. Sadr's father Sadiq al-Sadr came to be in charge of a brand of Islamism that rapidly captured the imagination of the slums of what is now Sadr City, just outside Baghdad. Communists, just like the leftwing Fatah in Gaza, got corrupted, and for the poor in Iraq's urban centres, Islamism was the more attractive revolutionary cause.

Sadiq al-Sadr was killed in 1999 and his son was catapulted into the centre of things by the idiotic US invasion of Iraq, the event that makes Iranian officials feel that oil-supply domination and a big joke at the expense of Arabs around the Gulf is just within reach. Last weekend the thirtysomething Sadr and not the patrician Sistani held all the cards.......

But the worst of it and what allowed Maliki's people to come and beg forgiveness in Iran was the elephant in the room. We don't know whether Sadr ordered it but attacks on one of the two main export pipelines near Basra reduced the country's oil exports by a third. The kickbacks alone would have had every corrupt Iraqi official genuflecting to Qom for some order. The use of British and American airpower - Britain's Major Tom Holloway sickeningly called it "incidences of weapons release" - against Sadr's forces predictably failed. The CIA talks to Sistani or his perceived proxy, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, while Sadr trains to be the next leader of Iraq.

Washington is less on Sadr's mind than Sistani's Badr organisation and unifying the country under a new national entity he foresees as being formed through a better revolution than Khomeini's in 1979. As of today, he is in Tehran, along with the families of Mughniyeh and Hassan Nasrallah of Hizbollah. Iran and Syria have very shaky relations but in them is the background to the coming civil war in Iraq. Maliki was in exile in Damascus while Sadr's people were in Tehran when Rumsfeld was selling WMD to Saddam Hussein. Washington would do better to investigate the explosive headrest of a Pajero parked in Damascus than talk to anyone else saying they know all about how to solve the problem of Iraq, scene of the largest emigration in human history and the shattering of so many millions of lives.

Back in the 16th century, the Persian Safavid dynasty built Qom as a rival to Mecca for pilgrimage - Washington has done it all over again."

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