Skip to comments.Plan To Arrest Maverick Iraqi Cleric For Murder (Sadr)
Posted on 10/21/2003 7:22:45 PM PDT by blam
Plan to arrest maverick Iraqi cleric for murder
Michael Howard in Baghdad
Wednesday October 22, 2003
The Guardian (UK)
Coalition and Iraqi officials are preparing an arrest warrant for the firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr over his alleged involvement with the brutal murder of a rival cleric last spring, sources close to the Iraqi governing council told the Guardian yesterday. The warrant, which has yet to be finalised, cites Mr Sadr for instigating a deadly attack on Abdel Majid al-Khoei, who was stabbed to death by a mob in the Shia holy city of Najaf on April 10.
It is said to be signed by Tahir Jalil Habboush - a senior mukhabarat officer under the former regime who now works with the coalition authorities - and is based on the confessions of 23 men who were involved in the killing.
"The belief of the coalition is that al-Sadr is not containable," the council source said. "They believe there is enough evidence that Muqtada was involved in the Khoei assassination and want to act to clip his wings before he can cause any more damage."
Since his swift rise to prominence in the days following regime change in Iraq, Mr Sadr, 30, has been a constant thorn in the side of the US-led administration in Iraq. He has been the most vocal opponent of occupation, while his well-organised followers have been involved in armed confrontations with US soldiers. Last week he declared a rival government to the US-appointed authority and urged his supporters on to the streets.
But with tension running high between US forces and Mr Sadr's supporters, Iraqi police fear an explosion of anger in the disaffected areas of Baghdad and Najaf and Karbala if Mr Sadr is seized.
"If they go down to Najaf to arrest him, his house will be surrounded by a human shield, and there would be a massacre before they get him," said Murtadha Nouri, a journalist with the newspaper Al-Adala. He warned that the planned showdown could backfire: "Given the antipathy towards the US, that could well play into his hands."
Mr Sadr's popularity is based in part on the ability of his supporters to provide basic services and security to parts of Sadr city immediately after the US-led bombing.
With unemployment at between 60% and 70% in Iraq, his radical rhetoric also resonates with those struggling beneath the poverty line. But observers say Mr Sadr has lost some of his early momentum. He has been criticised for strongly challenging the Shia religious establishment, represented by Grand Ayatollah Ali Hussein al-Sistani, who has condoned cooperation with Iraq's new government.
"Muqtada's fight is essentially over controlling the donation of the money to the shrines, and people begin to suspect those motives," said a member of the rival Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which has a seat on the governing council.
Abbas al Robai, a spokesman for Mr Sadr, said yesterday: "Any talk of involvement in violence is just by politically motivated rivals. Al-Khoei happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and was the victim of local score settling. Muqtada al-Sadr had nothing to do with it."
The killing of the moderate Mr Khoei, who had recently returned from exile in Europe, heralded a series of attacks on prominent Shia figures in Iraq, culminating in the car bomb in Najaf on August 29 that killed more than 90 Iraqis, including Ayatollah Bakir al-Hakim The violence has -intensified feelings of confusion and insecurity among Iraq's majority Shia population.
The bulk of the evidence against Mr Sadr is understood to be based on confessions from 23 men arrested after the attack. Three are reported to have confessed to the stabbing while another 20 said they prevented Mr Khoei from seeking help while bleeding to death. Under questioning, they admitted receiving direct instructions from the young cleric, the source said.