Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle For Iraq

Patrick Cockburn. Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, The Shia Revival, and the Struggle For Iraq
New York: Scribner, 2008

Reviewed by T. Hatch

Patrick Cockburn is the Iraq correspondent for The Independent of London; his reporting does rely on being “embedded” with US or UK forces, i.e., he is not a government propagandist. His work on Muqtada al-Sadr follows his earlier work Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq in stressing the dire economic devastation that has occurred in Iraq after the Gulf War of 1991. The mass impoverishment of Iraq is the real story that is rarely mentioned in the corporate media's coverage of the colonial occupation.

The story of Shi'ism from the time of Imam Hussein and his warrior half brother Abbas being killed in battle at Karbala in 680 A.D., until the present day, resembles Irish history in that there are not many happy moments. Shi'ism was conceived in defeat and has not been politically dominant since before Saladin (a Sunni Kurd from Tikrit) who vanquished them in Egypt. Muqtada al-Sadr is the heir to this tradition of martyrdom and resistance. The progenitor of the Sadrist movement Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr (a.k.a. Sadr I), Muqtada's cousin, was killed by having nails driven into his forehead after watching his sister being raped and killed by henchmen of Saddam Hussein in 1980. His father Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr (Sadr II), the organizational genius behind the Sadrist movement, was gunned down with Muqtada's two older brothers in 1999.

As the current leader of the Sadrist movement he is only nominally in charge of an organization that attracts zealous young men who are, at best, only loosely under his control. The Sadr movement has a social revolutionary aspect to it but fundamentally combines Iraqi nationalism with Shi'a religious identity in a way that the occupying US forces find troubling. There are at least great ironies in the US position. Firstly, like Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party, the Bush administration believes that to eliminate Muqtada al-Sadr will subdue the vexatious elements of Shi'ism. Secondly, the US is currently backing the central government [sic] of Nouri al-Maliki who embraces a pronounced separatist proclivity against the nationalism of Muqtada and the Mehdi army.

Cockburn's book is worth reading if for no other reason than the next time you see a dilettante (e.g. Chris Matthews) on television decrying the ignorance of one public official or another not knowing the difference between a Sunni and Shi'a Muslim you can appreciate just how shallow is commercially produced “expert” knowledge.

This book is on order for the Grinnell College Libraries

Other books by Patrick Cockburn:

Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein
. NY: Harper Collins, 1999. Written with Alexander Cockburn. Burling Library DS79.75 .C63x 1999

Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq. New York: Verso, 2007 (on order for the library)

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