We should have taken out Muqtada as-Sadr (سيد مقتدى الصدر, sayyid muqtadā aS-Sadr; titled: حجة الإسلام, Hujjat al-islām, meaning “proof or expert on Islam,” meaning he’s a middle-ranking Shiite cleric).
Within Iraq, one may say that there are two prominent factions: the activists, under as-Sadr, and the quietists, under Grand Ayatollah as-Sistani (السيد علي الحسيني السيستاني, as-sayyid ‛alī al-Hussaynī as-sīstānī; titled: آية الله العظمى, āyatullāh al-‛uZmā, meaning “Great Āyatullāh,” referring to the senior-most level of Shiite clerics).
After a period of time, the activist Shiites, who are organized in political parties and militias, gained control of and prominence in Iraqi politics. As-Sadr is certainly a person to consider. He’s no small fry. But one needs to also see why he seeks this attention.
Obviously, protection of Shiites and revenge for the injustices perpetuated against them by Sunnis are two reasons he is militantly active. Whereas as-Sistani desires the Shiites to be peaceful, non-violent, and cooperative with whoever rules, as-Sadr believes the Shiites need to take their areas into their own hands. If the Iraqi government were not to recognize as-Sadr, his militias, and his faction of Shiites, as-Sadr would create within Iraq his own semi-autonomous area. He certainly has the men and weapons to do so. Because the Iraq government does not want the state to fracture into numerous mini-states, and because the Iraqi government does not want to perpetuate a state of civil war between Shiites and Sunnis, the Iraqi government recognizes as-Sadr’s importance and include him in their deliberations, policies, and government.
But among Shiites, as-Sadr does not have unanimous support. In fact, one of his most significant opponents is as-Sistani himself. As-Sistanti strongly disagrees with as-Sadr’s violent and activist ways. Furthermore, as-Sadr is trying to coopt the religious leadership. He has set himself up as the commander of Shiite militias, as the spokesperson of the Shiites, but he is just a Hujjat al-Islam. He’s not even an ayatullah, let alone a Grand Ayatullah like as-Sistani. Furthermore, it is clear that not only is as-Sadr coopting the rightful authority and sway of the religious leadership, it is clear that he disregards them. This sort of munity is almost blasphemous, according to Shiite theology: the religious leadership, specifically the top-most tiers (Ayatullahs and Grand Ayatullahs) represent and stand in for the Imam while the Imam is in hiding. To coopt the Ayatullahs’ power, authority, and prestige is to coopt the same of the Imam.
Of course, as-Sadr would respond that the religious leadership in Iraq cannot serve the Shiites’ interests: arms and violence would secure the Shiites’ viability, not cooperation or quietism. Of course, the quietists say that using violence and arms only exacerbates the “circle of violence,” is prohibited in the absence of the Imam, and gives reasons to the government to disregard Shiite interests. Both sides have a point. But their internal disputes cannot bode well.
As-Sadr has been careful, though, not to antagonize the religious leadership in Iraq too much. His excesses with his use of the Mosque of Imam Ali in Najaf turned domestic and international Shiite opinion against him. Occupying such a central Shiite site was a clear challenge to Iraq’s Shiites’ religious leadership, and as-Sadr lost that challenge: as-Sistani hurried from England, where he was undergoing medical treatment, to essentially broker a ceasefire between as-Sadr’s men and coalition forces, in the process forcing and ordering as-Sadr to leave the Mosque. As-Sadr could not have refused as-Sistani’s order.
But whom do we read of and hear of now? Rarely of as-Sistani and more of as-Sadr. This is wrong. We need to pay more attention to as-Sistani and to whomever among the religious leadership promotes cooperation rather than violent resistance. We need to exploit this split within the Shiite sommunity, and must legitimize the quietists while delegitimizing the activists. Then, it may just take social and religious pressure by Iraq’s Shiites to force the Shiite militias to disarm. (However, although the quietists would advocate cooperation, they would never make other Shiites put down their arms until they are guaranteed that the Shiites will be safe. So we must first see to the Shiites’ safety and protection, which would not only win the support of many Shiites, particularly the quietists, but also make the need for militias and activist band nonexistent.)
Consider, for a moment, as-Sadr’s rhetoric and methods. They seem familiar. Hezbollah shares such aspects, does it not? From where would Hezbollah and as-Sadr get their propaganda from? Could it be from the same source they get their money and arms from? Could it be, just as a guess, the activist Shiite state of Iran?
By destroying as-Sadr’s hold on Iraqi politics, and particularly his authority and power upon the Shiite portion of Iraq, Iran’s very hold weakens, if not disappears. As-Sadr can be seen as Iran’s proxy. Cut the puppet’s strings, burn the puppet, and the puppetmaster will have nothing with which to manipulate his subjects. And by establishing stability in the Shiite portion of Iraq, the Iraqi state’s resources can be focused on disarming or eliminating the Sunni militias.
In my opinion, furthermore, vaunting the regard, authority, power, influence, and hold of quietists such as as-Sistani can also be used to export and spread the quietist theology of Shiism, which could go a long way to stanch Iran’s propagandic and theological hold on the various Shiite communities worldwide. Each Shiite community would have make a choice: does it follow Iran (activist Shiism) or Iraq (quietist Shiism)?
One advantage we have is that the current leader of Iran-style Shiism is Khameneï (Persian: سید علی حسینی خامنه ای, sayyed ‛alī hosseynī khāmeneī; titled: آیت الله, āyatollāh or آیت الله العظمی, āyatollāh al-‛ozmā and ولی فقیه, valī-ye faghīh, meaning “Jurisprudent Guardian,” and رهبر, rahbar, meaning “leader” or “guide,” referring to his title of “Supreme Leader”; the actual title is رهبرِ انقلاب, rahbar-e enghelāb, meaning “Guide or Leader of the Revolution,” obviously referring to so-called Islamic Revolution supposedly launched by Khameneï’s predecessor, Khomeini (سید روح الله موسوی خمینی, sayyed rūhollāh mūsavī khomeynī; titled: آیت الله العظمی, āyatollāh al-‛ozmā, meaning “Great Ayatollah,” and رهبرِ انقلاب, rahbar-e enghelāb, meaning “Leader/Guide of the [Islamic] Revolution,” and ولی فقیه, valī-ye faghīh, meaning “Jurisprudent Guardian,” and often امام, imām; the last title, despite its common use, is considered to be blasphemous by some Shiites)). Before his elevation to the Supreme Leader, Khameneï was not even an ayatollah, let alone a Grand Ayatollah. As such, his standing in the worldwide Shiite community is not very high. Some Shiites, particularly those who cleave closely to Khomeini’s revolution, hold him to be the supreme jurisprudent for all Shiites. Others don’t even accept him has a jurisprudent. Compared to as-Sistani, Khameneï has no clout. By focusing on Khameneï weaknesses and as-Sistani’s strengths and qualifications, we can not only weaken Iran’s hold but also Iran’s theological interpretation as well, strengthening quietism and weakening activism.