Muqtada al-Sadr: Statesman by Decree

(Newsday) Mohamad Bazzi - As he walked into one of Shia Islam's holiest shrines, the cleric was greeted by hundreds of believers waving his picture and pumping their fists in the air, chanting, "With our blood, with our souls, we will sacrifice for you, Muqtada." Such a reception is typical for Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, where he commands a wide following. But this was Damascus, Syria, a secular dictatorship where visiting religious leaders usually do not rate a hero's welcome. "I pray that all Muslims will unite against Western injustice and tyranny," al-Sadr told the crowd during his Feb. 10 visit. Once a renegade Shia cleric with a ragtag militia fighting U.S. forces, al-Sadr has transformed himself into a statesman. He controls a key bloc in the new Iraqi parliament, and he's become a kingmaker in the selection of the next Iraqi prime minister. For the U.S., al-Sadr may pose a greater threat as a politician than he did as a militia leader. "The Syrian regime is trying to form a united front with Iran and Islamist groups in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine," said Marwan Kabalan, a political science professor at Damascus University. "Al-Sadr is a major part of that effort."

2011-03-22 00:00:00

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