Muslim terrorist leader in Iraq
Muqtada al-Sadr was born in approximately 1974 (though his exact date of birth is uncertain). He is the son of Iraqi cleric Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, a prominent Shiite figure who was murdered, along with two of his sons, by agents of Saddam Hussein in February 1999. The city of Najaf, which is the home of the al-Sadr clan, along with certain parts of Sadr City, a Baghdad suburb, is al-Sadr's power base. As the son of a widely respected cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr himself is well regarded by certain elements of the Shiite Community, especially the younger and more radical elements, although he is lacking the formal religious education required by Shiite doctrines. As he is not a religious scholar, al-Sadr cannot issue religious edicts (fatwas), but his fiery oratory and his lineage has afforded him a considerable measure of respect, especially from the young radicals.
In early 2004, al-Sadr became the de-facto ruler of the Sadr City section of Baghdad and commanded the loyalty of the al-Mahdi Army¾a militia he helped form. In April of that year he clashed with U.S. forces. This was followed by a truce in June, at which point al-Sadr sent mixed signals: though he promised to disband his militia and become involved in the political process, his militia nevertheless kept up a barrage of suicide bombings and other attacks. The Iraqi Conditional Provisional Authority (CPA) had on several occasions previously threatened to arrest al-Sadr, but to end the crisis he was given assurances that he would not face arrest, and that he would be allowed to run in the 2005 elections if he laid down his arms. Tensions rose again in August 2004, and U.S. and Iraqi forces moved against al-Sadr and his militia, which has been estimated to consist of anywhere between 500 and 1,000 trained and hard-core combatants along with another 5,000 to 6,000 active participants, although some estimates peg this number as high as 10,000.
The al-Sadr group has been charged with involvement in attacks and intimidation in Najaf against other Shiit political factions, including the killing of a pro-U.S. cleric, Abd al-Majid al-Khoi, shortly after his return from exile in London. Al-Khoi was himself the son of another extremely powerful former grand ayatollah, Abolqassem al-Khoi. Al-Khoi was murdered as he emerged from the city's Imam Ali Mosque. In an attempt to bridge gaps between the Sunni and Shiite communities, he had met with the mosque's custodian Haidar Raifee, who was popularly considered to have collaborated with Saddam Hussein's regime. Raifee was brutally killed along with al-Khoi.
Immediately following al-Khoi's murder, al-Sadr militants surrounded the house of the grand ayatollah in Najaf, Ali Sistani, al-Sadr's main rival for influence. Sistani, a moderate, escaped and temporarily went into hiding, emerging only after being bolstered by reinforcements.
An Iraqi judge subsequently issued an arrest warrant for al-Sadr in connection with the killing of Ayatollah Abd al-Majid al-Khoi, and coalition forces closed his Al-Hawzah newspaper. The situation escalated when al-Sadr's militia began a new campaign of intimidation against Iraqi citizens in Baghdad and Najaf. The militia attempted to occupy and gain control of police stations and government buildings. During this attack, al-Sadr's forces engaged coalition forces, which quickly repulsed the attack and reestablished control. Coalition troops also fought gun battles with the militia in the southern cities of Nassiriyah, Amara and Kut. Conditions rapidly deteriorated and coalition forces were soon involved in the most widespread fighting in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in the previous year. Troops battled Shiite militias in half a dozen Iraqi towns and cities, from Kirkuk in the north to Basra in the south. The Al-Mahdi militia took full control of the city of Kut and partial control of Najaf. In Karbala, Polish and Bulgarian troops fought Al-Mahdi militants as hundreds of thousands of Shiites were gathering ahead of a religious festival. Militants then attacked British troops in the center of Basra, south of Baghdad, and simultaneously attacked the governor's offices and coalition headquarters with rocket-propelled grenades. British forces counterattacked and killed several militants. These attacks were precipitated by a Basra cleric inciting militants with an offer of cash rewards for the killing or capture of British and American troops. The cleric, Sheikh Abdul-Sattar al-Bahadli, an al-Sadr sympathizer, also promised that anyone who captured British or American female soldiers could keep them as slaves. In June 2004, Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi offered amnesty to all militiamen who agreed to disarm. Their members would either join state-controlled security services or return to civilian life.
August, however, witnessed an escalation of violence. There were clashes across central and southern Iraq between the Al-Mahdi militia and U.S., British, and Italian forces. Al-Sadr's total abandonment of the previously agreed-upon truce was now evident. His forces attacked Italian troops in Nasiriyah with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire. They attacked U.S. positions in Baghdad, Najaf and Basrah. A U.S. helicopter was downed in Najaf, without loss of life. Coalition forces hit back hard, and al-Sadr's forces were suffering large casualties. Al-Sadr soon offered another ceasefire. In a magnanimous gesture, interim Prime Minister Allawi signed a limited amnesty law that would pardon insurgents as long as they had not killed anyone. He also offered an olive branch to al-Sadr, giving him the opportunity to legitimize himself by taking part in the political process. Al-Sadr had previously rejected invitations to participate in Iraqi elections, and as of December 2004 he still had not indicated any willingness to take part in the elections scheduled for January 2005.
Fighting continued in August 2004, and by mid-month U.S. forces had killed as many as 400 militants in Najaf alone. Two U.S. Marines were also killed in the fighting in Najaf.
On August 27, 2004, tensions were diffused somewhat when a deal between the American-led coalition and al-Sadr's forces was brokered by Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The keys to the Imam Ali mosque, which had been taken over and used as a base by insurgents, were handed over to Sistani. Al-Sadr ordered his militia to cease hostilities and stated that he would soon announce plans for his political future. Given al-Sadr's history of giving conflicting signals, his long-term plans were unclear.