Why is Iraq’s Muqtada al-Sadr calling for Assad to go?

Michael Weiss writes: A decade ago, the name Muqtada al-Sadr was for Iraqi Sunnis synonymous with electrical cables and power drills—the preferred torture and murder implements of the powerful Shia cleric’s Mahdi Army. By the end of 2006, at the height of Iraq’s civil war, around 3,000 Sunnis caught up in the Sadrist wave of violence were dumped in a soccer field in Adhamiya, in eastern Baghdad, a sporting center that took on the nickname “martyrs’ cemetery.”

For the U.S.-led coalition, Sadr was persistent and dangerous threat in a country with those to spare. A leading insurgent-warlord, at one point had as much blood on his hands as al-Qaeda, and a lot of that blood was from American soldiers. He was also in charge of what really was a “deep state” apparatus in the fledging Iraqi government; with Sadrist goons in charge of the transportation ministry, Baghdad International Airport, and all of its attendant facilities, right down to the sky marshals and cleaning company used to vacuum and mop the terminals. They moonlighted as sectarian spies, tracking the movements of traveling Sunnis, planning kidnapping schemes, and also trafficking in guns and cash into and out of Iraq.

Today, Sadr has become one of the most prominent Shia voices in Iraq calling for reconciliation with Sunnis. But, more striking still, he is calling the ouster of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who has outdone the Sadrists by orders of magnitude in waging war against adherents of Islam’s majority Sunni sect.

Iran, its expeditionary forces, and proxies wield enormous power in Iraq, and are committed to supporting Assad in Syria. So Sadr’s position puts him in direct opposition to the mullahs in Tehran. [Continue reading…]

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