Lately there where some demonstrations supporting Sadr in the south of Iraq and it was seen by some of the media as an evidence of the wide support for Sadr among Iraqis. What made the picture even darker was the attitude of some of the IP and ING officers who declared that they protest against what happening in Najaf and that they support Sadr. Then came the news that the government is negotiating with Sadr which was interpreted as a sign of weakness and a submission to the pressure of the people.
Who are those demonstrators? Are they Sadr followers or just average Iraqis sympathizing with him? Why did it take days for them to go out to the streets. I’m taking here about the unarmed demonstrations.
Despite the fact that their number is still not that significant but I want to share with the others my opinion of who are these people and what do they want.
1st of all I want to say that when I looked at the people taking parts in those demos, I noticed some strange things. The way most of those people expressed their opinions was in a rather calm peaceful manner and they were holding signs showing slogans and demands, as there no "Death to America" or "Jihad"...etc. Such behavior is highly unexpected from Sadr followers, as there were some of Sadr followers demonstrating but these were small in number (tens of young men) and they were all armed. Also Most of these people were old men while Sadr movement was always composed of teenagers and young men.
Still who are these men and women and why are they showing support? And who are those officers and why did they protest?
To understand this we’ll have to go back to when the new Iraq army and security forces were formed. In the beginning many Iraqis were still haven’t accepted the idea of joining an army formed by an “occupying force” and most of those who joined the army at that time were members of the old militias of the major parties such as the Badr brigade and others. But since we all know that the SCIRI was in a conflict with Sadr all the time and that even small fights broke between the two, it becomes unexpected that they stand with him this time?
This will be more clear if we look at the attitude of the SCIRI and that of Al Da’awa party; the strongest She’at Islamic parties. Both parties adapted a stance different from that of the rest in Allawi’s government. When almost all the others called for a military action and declared that they won’t stop until the Mahdi militia is disarmed.
Such stance is because these parties and although they are in great conflict with Sadr, still derive their power and influence in the streets from the same source that the Mahdi army gets it. They both depend on the religious emotions of simple minded people and they both retain a kind of sacred or holy image either because of their descent, their rank as clerics or their She’at Islamic perspective which depends on common history and beliefs. I must say that this doesn't apply to all clerics though.
Now if Sadr get arrested and as I explained before, the ‘holiness’ which all these parties depend on will be lost or damaged severely, as it will be shown that they are not above the law and that they are not as strong as they claim and with all their differences and all their conflicts with each other, they still agree on not messing with their common source of power, their ‘holy’ image that til now have put them above the law.
There is another factor here that helps to explain why Sadr gets such support that involve not only She’at clerics but all the anti American front in Iraq, which is formed of a bizarre mosaic of Ba’athists, Religious fanatics whether Sunni or She’at backed by terrorists from outside and unlimited support from the neighboring countries as well as all anti American anti democracy powers. Still there is a question regarding the non-Shea’at components of the anti American front. Why would they all show considerable support to Sadr that’s far more than they should any other part?
I think the answer to that is that they saw in Sadr a more ‘legitimate’ voice than the others, as it’s true that although most of his army is composed of criminals and even ex-Ba’athists, there are still some poor and ignorant Iraqis who suffered a lot at Saddam’s time and were not able to voice their demands. These people found freedom now but many of their demands are still haven’t been met. Some of them misunderstood freedom and were deceived by Sadr words and are attracted by his father’s name.
The non-She’at parties saw in Muqtada’s revolt a golden opportunity to further disturb peace in Iraq and hinder American and Iraqi efforts to build a democracy. Also they are very determined to push any peace agreement away, unlike the She’at parties, because they hope that Sadr get killed and that this would inflame the position further.
To summerize it, all the parties who support Sadr do not want him to succeed. Some just want him not destroyed because it will harm them too (She’at clerics) and others want him killed or arrested because they mistakenly think that this will make it worse. The truth is that most Iraqis don’t support Sadr and do not care what happens to him and even if he get killed, his militia which is a very unorganized crazy bunch will disperse into small gangs that kill and steal without any political ambition. Here’s another reliable voice that describes Iraqis reactions.
When we put all the above in mind, it gets easier to understand the current strange developments. The way I see it is that those officers were members of the Badr brigade or other She’at Islamic party and they are naturally still loyal to them and that they got orders from their superiores in their parties to make such a statement. Otherwise and if they really supported Sadr one would expect them to join him not only to show sympathy. While the civilians who demonstrated also seem to be members or supporters of the SCIR and Al Da’awa party or other similar organizations.
It seems that the Allawi, his defense minister and interior minister together with most of the government see this truth and are determined to carry on the fight, and they don’t have much choice anyway, as it’s very clear that Sadr and his gangs will never drop their arms and will continue intimidating and terrorizing people despite any peace agreement.
The road to democracy in Iraq is still a very hard and long one and the latest events have shown that more sacrifices are needed mainly on the Iraqi part. This fact will not stop us or scare us and I’ve seen many Iraqis who feel the same. They are aware for probably the 1st time since the end of the war that they have a role to play and that it’s a very important one that involve serious sacrifices and it doesn’t seem to make them give up. At least that’s what I saw and heard.