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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The current Shia uprising in Southern Iraq is perhaps one of the clearest examples of the incompetence of the so-called "coalition" and Paul Bremner the man who is currently running the country. The trigger for the event was the closing down of al-Hawza a daily newspaper allied with Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Both the cleric and the paper had been highly critical of the conduct of the occupying forces. Supporters of Sadr responded by organising numerous demonstrations. The "coalition" carried out several raids and arrested Mustafa al-Yaqubi, a senior aide to al-Sadr.

The shit really hit the fan on Sunday when "coalition" forces (provoked either by gunfire of stone-throwing) fired on a crowd of al-Sadr supporters. This left several dead and many injured and protesters seized several police stations. Although the more "moderate" (that is pro-"coalition") Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful man in the Iraqi Shia hierachy, has called, through a spokesman, on demonstrators not retaliate against occupying forces even if they face aggression, tensions remain high. (Although the Western media has emphasised al-Sistani's call for calm, he also asserted that "the demonstratorsÂ’ demands are legitimate," and that he condemnss acts waged by the occupation forces and pledges his support to the families of the victims").

Where this is likely to go next is unclear, but things are unlikely to calm down anytime soon. Al-Sadr has called on his supporters "not to resort to demonstrations, for they have become nothing but burned paper" and urged them "to resort to other measures, which you take in your own provinces" which has been interpreted by many as a call to arms. Furthermore, apparent plans to arrest the cleric are unlikely to calm tensions.

While not the most powerful of Shia clerics al-Sadr's influence is still considerable, particularly among poorer sections of the Shia community: Following the fall of the Ba'ath regime, Saddam city was renamed in his honour of Sadr's father who was murdered by the now toppled dictator; he also has his own militia, al-Mahdi Army, banned, butnonethelesss still a potentially serious threat to "coalition" forces. While he had been opposed to the occupation since it began, al-Sadr had previously, as Rahul Mahajan of Empire Notes points out, "been clear not to advocate violent resistance to his followers", as his statement above makes clear this is no longer the case. The "coalition" may come to regret the day they chose to pick a fight with Moqtada al-Sadr.

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