Sadr Forming Party

NYT – Shiite Cleric Is Forming Party That May Play Role In Elections [RSS]

Moktada al-Sadr, the fiery Shiite cleric whose fighters have waged a 10-week insurgency against the American-led occupation, is starting a political party that will probably take part in elections early next year, a spokesman for him said Sunday.

The move is the most significant sign that Mr. Sadr is trying to become involved in the mainstream political process. Last week, he softened his militant stance when he conditionally approved the new Iraqi interim government, which he had mocked.

But Mr. Sadr’s spokesman, Qais al-Khazali, said in an interview in Najaf that Mr. Sadr would not disband his militia, the Mahdi Army. Mr. Khazali argued that the militia was not an organized force but a popular uprising, and so there was no way to break it up. Mr. Sadr’s stand runs counter to demands by the Americans and the new interim government that all illegal private armies be dissolved.

“A militia is a group of trained fighters supplied with weapons that has military rankings,” Mr. Khazali said. “We don’t have any of these things in the Mahdi Army.”

If Mr. Sadr does take part in general elections scheduled for January 2005, then he will do so in defiance of an order last week by L. Paul Bremer III, the top American administrator in Iraq. The edict barred people associated with illegal militias from taking part in elections in the near future. The Americans have also been trying to execute an arrest warrant for Mr. Sadr in connection to his role in the murder last year of an American-backed cleric.

One presumes that the transitional government will have strong incentive to arrest Sadr and get him out of the way. Still, the fact that he feels obligated to operate within this new set of rules is a good sign.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.