Iraq's rebel cleric gains surge in popularity
May 19, 2004 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Iraq's rebel cleric gains surge in popularity An Iraqi poll to be released next week shows a surge in the popularity of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical young Shia cleric fighting coalition forces, and suggests nearly nine out of 10 Iraqis see US troops as occupiers and not liberators or peacekeepers.
posted by Postroad (36 comments total)

But we give them such lovely wedding gifts.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:22 PM on May 19, 2004

What the heck are you talking about?
posted by hama7 at 5:27 PM on May 19, 2004

posted by Kwantsar at 5:29 PM on May 19, 2004

This is certainly bad news. My only hope is that when the poll comes out next week it's found to be misleading or less than factual.
posted by mathowie at 5:37 PM on May 19, 2004

What the heck are you talking about?

He's talking about Iraq's rebel cleric, and his surge in popularity. It turns out that an Iraqi poll to be released next week shows a surge in the popularity of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical young Shia cleric fighting coalition forces, and suggests nearly nine out of 10 Iraqis see US troops as occupiers and not liberators or peacekeepers.

Hope that helps.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 5:37 PM on May 19, 2004

wow this is total worth posting. you mean the iraqi people dont like us?! wow, i'm glad i read metafilter for all the important late-breaking CRAP.
posted by bob sarabia at 5:46 PM on May 19, 2004

Respondents saw Mr Sadr as Iraq's second most influential figure after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most senior Shia cleric. Some 32 per cent of respondents said they strongly supported Mr Sadr and another 36 per cent somewhat supported him.

This is extremely vague. What does influential mean? How was the question phrased? When this started, a poll (can't find the link) said that 1% of Iraqis felt that Sadr was the best suited leader for Iraq (or something to that effect). Does that mean that support for him to lead has grown to 32%? I highly doubt that. Do they "support" him vs. The US in this conflict? More likely. And less significant.
posted by loquax at 5:50 PM on May 19, 2004

Kathy Parks 22-year-old son, Sam, is a Marine fighting in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, and last month he sent her an e-mail from the war zone. It read: "Dear Mom, I need a favor. The command I am with in Iraq needs 250 of those talk-around Motorolas for the rest of the Marines in the company." Parks' son told her that his commanding officer had asked everyone to call home requesting the lightweight walkie-talkies, which they say are invaluable in the event of an attack.

Just how incompetent is the political leadership of the US right now?
posted by dash_slot- at 6:01 PM on May 19, 2004

dash_slot-: "The Pentagon says it issues military radios, but limits the number in order to keep the lines of communication clear and secure."

I have no experience in the military, but that seems like a rational explanation for why everyone doesn't have radios. Not sure that has anything to do with the political leadership of the US either, if there is an issue it seems like it's with the procurement or policies of the DoD.
posted by loquax at 6:05 PM on May 19, 2004

The "wedding gifts," hama7, refers to the slaughter by US forces of 40 or so wedding party members today.
posted by NortonDC at 6:15 PM on May 19, 2004

US aircraft bombed Karbala overnight. Now that is a story.

I can't believe I just wrote the words above. I would not be writing them if Bush had any idea whatsoever what he was doing in Iraq. Bombing Karbala. It must be being seen by Shiites as like a sci-fi Terminator sort of Yazid.

Every time I think things cannot get worse, they do.

I think Juan Cole's comments sum up why the shia section of Iraqi society are getting increasingly irate.

Let's just hope they don't kill Sadr or properly damage the shrines to Hussein/Ali. The former will cause all sorts of grief as he will be viewed as a martyr - the latter will cause a mass of Iranian shia to join the fray up in the less protected north.
posted by Mossy at 6:26 PM on May 19, 2004

"refers to the (alleged) slaughter by US forces of 40 or so (unconfirmed) wedding party members today."

Pentagon officials denied that a U.S. attack in western Iraq killed civilians at a wedding party. A Pentagon spokesman described the target as "anti-coalition forces" who fired on U.S. troops. A video distributed by The Associated Press showed witnesses saying planes killed 20 people when they fired on a wedding celebration - CNN
posted by loquax at 6:33 PM on May 19, 2004

Then maybe it was the last time we did it, in Afghanistan. Same shit, different dead kids.
posted by NortonDC at 6:35 PM on May 19, 2004

I know what you mean NortonDC, sometimes the lies and the truth all blend into one right?
posted by loquax at 6:37 PM on May 19, 2004

So if it only happened once, then it didn't happen?
posted by NortonDC at 6:48 PM on May 19, 2004

Sadr is coming to the end of his string. A coalition of 25 Shia tribal leaders and the four top clerics of Najaf gave him a deadline of May 15 to surrender to them, as a face-saving gesture, to face trial for murder without ever being in the custody of the US.

He blew them off. Now he is in opposition to them, and just today sent a rabble to protest outside the offices of Sistani. This is not a sign of strength.

Unless he can make a major splash in the next few days, enough to show he has "juice", at least enough to coerce cooperation from the Shiites, his stuff is weak. The US has cut off the road between his two power centers, and he is holed up in a major mosque--apparently unable to communicate with his top lieutenants in other cities, whose actions are becoming less and less coordinated.

I'm still betting one of his bodyguard offs him, hoping to curry favor or get a cash reward.
posted by kablam at 6:50 PM on May 19, 2004

NortonDC: No, what I mean is that because something may have happened in the past does not mean that every future claim of a similar occurrence is automatically substantiated.
posted by loquax at 6:56 PM on May 19, 2004

And what I mean is that one air assault on a wedding is enough to validate "But we give them such lovely wedding gifts."
posted by NortonDC at 6:58 PM on May 19, 2004

I just want to say what this post was designed to get me to say, "this war sucks and the administration prosecuting this war sucks even bigger." So there,!
posted by caddis at 6:59 PM on May 19, 2004

Fair enough NortonDC, if you want to make light of what was undoubtedly an accident that cost 10's of lives. I was referring to your unsubstantiated and denied claim regarding "the slaughter by US forces of 40 or so wedding party members today".
posted by loquax at 7:02 PM on May 19, 2004

it seems that the soldier's C.O. values the lives of his men more highly than the Pentagon does, then.

If you were there, would you say what you said today?
posted by dash_slot- at 7:03 PM on May 19, 2004

loquax - Fair enough NortonDC, if you want to make light of what was undoubtedly an accident that cost 10's of lives.

No, that was XQUZYPHYR. I never made light of it.
posted by NortonDC at 7:04 PM on May 19, 2004

dash-slot-: I honestly don't know what I'd say. I'd probably want a lot of things, not all of which would necessarily be a good idea. All I'm saying is that maybe there's a valid reason for not issuing radios to everyone, especially unsecured radios. Maybe I'm wrong, but there just could be a valid, non-incompetence related explanation. I really can't see how politics enters into the equation though, even if the military chain of command is being irresponsible.
posted by loquax at 7:09 PM on May 19, 2004

Sorry NortonDC, you're right, my apologies. I only saw it in your comment before I said that.
posted by loquax at 7:10 PM on May 19, 2004

So why did the C.O. ask for them?
Why did the US Quartermaster allow them through?
Why weren't they stopped by a senior officer?
If they are an interference in comms, it won't get through - tho it has.

The failure is in planning - and that goes up to civilian control of the officers.

You have been following, haven't you?
posted by dash_slot- at 7:30 PM on May 19, 2004

dash-slot-: Like I said, you might be right. I'm just not sure the line between the scenario described in the article and political incompetence is so straight. But it may be.
posted by loquax at 7:51 PM on May 19, 2004

The official US version of the "wedding party".

Just a smooch different from what was originally reported.

"According to the military, at 3 a.m. local time Wednesday, coalition forces conducted an operation against a suspected foreign fighter safe house in the open desert...
...Coalition forces came under hostile fire and called for support from the air. After the strike, coalition forces recovered numerous weapons, foreign passports, a SATCOM radio and two million Iraqi and Syrian dinars, military officials said..."
posted by kablam at 8:25 PM on May 19, 2004

It's about time.

-Where do you live?

-In Sadr city.

-Oh I see, but what do you think the cause of this insecurity?

-Is that a question?? They are those thugs and thieves.

-Who are those?!

-Sadr followers.

-I agree, but I don’t understand your people there. Why do they support them!?

-Do you really believe that?? I swear to God they are no more than a couple of thousands terrorizing millions and hiding behind slogans like jihad and resistance. The whole city has got sick and tired of their doings. We just want to work, feed our children and take a break. We are tired of all this bullshit. They can’t deceive us anymore.
This idiot is taking advantage of his father’s name and we know the people who are gathering around him. Most of them are gangsters and ex-convicts with some foolish teenagers. They are anything but Muslims. Every now and then one of these cowards come hiding his face and fire against the American troops and when the Americans respond innocents get hurt.

I was encouraged by his attitude and asked:
-Why don’t you try to do something about it?

-Who says we aren’t? I’m one of the people who reported some members of the Mahdi army to the IP and now they are in prison.

-Really!? God bless you. That was brave of you. These people really belong there.

-Sure they do! Did this idiot forget who killed his father!? And who took his revenge? Could he have ever raised his voice if it wasn’t for the same people whom he’s fighting now? Well let the Iranians help him now! Believe me brother when I say that the majority of Sadr city people are grateful for the Americans. We didn’t fire a bullet at them when they entered our city. We gave them the reception of liberators and they are. Why would we fight them now!?
posted by techgnollogic at 9:36 PM on May 19, 2004

What the heck are you talking about?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:43 PM on May 19, 2004

Hostilities force Bush into deep hole

"I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure. We are looking into the abyss," General Joseph Hoar, a former commander in chief of US central command, told the Senate foreign relations committee.

The apocalyptic language is becoming increasingly common here among normally moderate and cautious politicians and observers.

Larry Diamond, an analyst at the conservative Hoover Institution, said: "I think it's clear that the United States now faces a perilous situation in Iraq.

"We have failed to come anywhere near meeting the post-war expectations of Iraqis for security and post-war reconstruction.

"There is only one word for a situation in which you cannot win and you cannot withdraw - quagmire."

The growing fear is that the US will able neither to defeat the insurgents in Iraq nor to find an honourable means of withdrawal, while every week there will be an haemorrhaging of US credibility in the Arab world and far beyond.

"With at least 82% of the Iraqis saying they oppose American and allied forces, how long do you think it will be before the Iraqi government asks our departure?" said Senator Joseph Biden, the senior Democrat on the foreign relations committee.

Meanwhile, traditional conservatives who see American interests in the Middle East as focused on a regular supply of oil are anxious because it has pulled its troops out of one big producer, Saudi Arabia, without establishing a sustainable military presence in another, Iraq.

"Anyway you look at this, outside the most extreme optimistic assessments, we end up weaker," a senior Republican international strategist said.

The conservatives' growing awareness that failure may be imminent has generated a backlash against the more radical "neo-conservatives" such as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith at the Pentagon, who are blamed for persuading President Bush that an invasion would be relatively easy.

Anthony Cordesman, a military scholar at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said the most serious problem in US government was "the fact that a small group of neo-conservative ideologues were able to substitute their illusions for an effective planning effort by professionals".

General Hoar was equally scathing about the calibre of the Bush administration.

"The policy people in both Washington and Baghdad," he said, "have demonstrated their inability to do a job on a day-to-day basis this past year."

posted by y2karl at 10:30 PM on May 19, 2004

First of all the wedding:
We have eyewitness testimony from locals that US did indeed level a village where a wedding was held. Check out this Fox news article, right after the military propaganda one reads the following:
Iraqi officials and others described a very different scenario.

Lt. Col Ziyad al-Jbouri, deputy police chief of the city of Ramadi (search), said between 42 and 45 people died in the attack, which took place about 2:45 a.m. in a remote desert area near the border with Syria and Jordan. He said those killed included 15 children and 10 women.

Dr. Salah al-Ani, who works at a hospital in Ramadi, put the death toll at 45.

The Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television reported that more than 20 people were killed and 10 injured in the attack.

The videotape, obtained and aired by Associated Press Television News, showed about a dozen bodies, one without a head. But it appeared that bodies were piled on top of each other and a clear count was not possible.

Iraqis interviewed on the videotape said partygoers had fired into the air in a traditional wedding celebration. American troops have sometimes mistaken celebratory gunfire for hostile fire.
One can always choose to believe belligerent military propaganda over the eyewitness testimony of the police chief and a doctor at the local hospital. Was the footage staged? Is al-Arabiya is making all of this up out of thin air? Or is it rather more likely that the US army (as invading armies have been historically prone to) is trying to cover up for a horrible misdeed by trigger-happy occupation soldiers?

He was something of a fringe figure, a hard-core fundamentalist that existed politically because of his father's followers. It appears taht the American strategy of direct confrontation has now turned him into a significant force. Sadr is pressing Sistani either to overtly oppose him (in which case he knows that he -Sadr- will immediately become the "radical" pole at the expense of Sistani) or to support him, in which case Sadr becomes a "mainstream" resistance figure and a permanent presence in post-occupation Iraq, while making continued US presence in southern Iraq untenable. Indeed the handling of the situation by the US command is so breathtakingly idiotic, that one begins to wonder if (for some reason) the US really wants to turn him into a political force / martyr.
kablam's comment is indicative of the total misreading of the situation by the US:
- The fact that he could "blow off" the Shia tribal leaders means that he is confident of his power and influence. I'd like to see some link to this story though, because I couldn't find it anywhere. The closest I could remember was this, which is quite a different story.
- As for the "rabble" that demonstrated outside Sistani's house, it is indeed a sign of strength. It shows that he is confident enough of his power to openly pressure Sistani, who has been increasingly blown off by the US command, that ignores his attempts at mediation, and thus is rather vulnerable to such pressure.
As events unfold, al-Sadr has shown himself to be a cunning tactician (alternatively: a lucky bugger) and it seems very likely that he, or some successor, has now acquired an influence that is irreversible. This is a bad thing, the effects of which on Iraq's future, it seems to me, might be blunted if Sistani chooses to call his followers to rise against the Americans, thus becoming the de facto leader of the increasingly popular resistance.
posted by talos at 7:34 AM on May 20, 2004

Some Iraqi perspectives:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
posted by dhoyt at 8:10 AM on May 20, 2004

and he is holed up in a major mosque--apparently unable to communicate with his top lieutenants in other cities, whose actions are becoming less and less coordinated.

Not long ago, U.S. officials and senior Shiite clergy viewed radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as a fringe figure with a narrow base of support. Times have changed.
In the six weeks since al-Sadr launched an anti-coalition uprising in Baghdad and across central and southern Iraq, the young cleric has been elevated to heroic status, his movement re-energized. His militiamen now control Najaf, Kufa and Karbala. ...
The prominence acquired by al-Sadr and his movement in recent weeks has tapped into growing Iraqi frustration with the U.S.-led occupation at the expense of older, more established clerics, whose cooperation with the Americans is seen by many Shiites as giving too much to an enemy.
-- Boston Globe 5/16
posted by amberglow at 8:18 AM on May 20, 2004

doyt's # 1 blog's post, reads opposite of this post.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:06 AM on May 20, 2004

That's why I just linked to it.

I've also read news reports of Sadr's militia members harassing business owners who do not post his picture in their windows. For a society that has been watching what it says in public for decades, especially in the current security situation, honest and accurate opinion polling may not be ready for prime time just yet.

That Iraq The Model post also mentions the Thulfiqar organization, which has been credited with secretly hunting down and killing Sadr's Madhi militia thugs for a few weeks now.
posted by techgnollogic at 11:55 AM on May 20, 2004

Video Suggests U.S. Forces Attacked Iraq Wedding
A Baghdad musician, a drummer who said he was the only survivor of the 10-man band which played at the party, told Reuters the film was shot Monday, May 17 -- the second of three days of wedding celebrations that ended with the attack.

The film shows pickup trucks racing across the desert -- some of the dead came from the regional capital Ramadi -- men dancing in a tent, children running around and a musician playing an electric organ. The same man later appeared dead in a shroud.
And there's plenty more in the article...
posted by NortonDC at 5:43 PM on May 24, 2004

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