Saturday, January 10, 2009

Muqtada al-Sadr and the Shia insurgency in Iraq by Patrick Cockburn

Lazily described as a "firebrand cleric" by the western media, Muqtada al-Sadr is in fact an intelligent politician who mixes puritanical Shia Islam with anti-imperialism and populism to mobilise great masses of angry young men, says Patrick Cockburn in this important book. Cockburn explains how the al-Sadr family's history of resistance to Saddam Hussein has given Muqtada an almost semi-divine status among pious Shias, yet westerners remain baffled by the inner religious life of Iraqis and are ignorant of the rich history of Shiism in Iraq. They do not understand why Shia religious leaders draw parallels between the US occupation and a battle that took place in AD680, but Cockburn does, and he has little time for the "bovine" Paul Bremer, former US administrator in Iraq, who predictably compared Muqtada to Hitler. A new afterword covers the Battle of Basra in March last year, the first major confrontation between Iraqi troops and the Mehdi Army, and concludes that Muqtada remains a force to be reckoned with.

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