After the 2004 uprisings, he supported involvement in the political process, despite denouncing the constitution, and was a significant force in the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shiite religious parties, but in Sept., 2007, his party withdrew from the government. In late 2007 he ordered his militia, which had at times fought with U.S. forces and had been blamed for attacks on the police, on Sunnis, and on other Shiites, to observe a cease-fire, and his forces were significantly weakened in May, 2008, when U.S. and Iraqi government forces asserted control over Sadr City. Sadr extended the cease-fire indefinitely in late 2008 and also ordered most members of the milita to disarm.
See biography by P. Cockburn (2008).
Along with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Sadr is one of the most influential religious and political figures in the country not holding any official title in the Iraqi government.
Muqtada al-Sadr is of Lebanese ancestry. His great-grandfather is Ismail as-Sadr. Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, Muqtada al-Sadr's father, was a well-respected figure throughout the Shi'a Islamic world. He was murdered, along with two of his sons, allegedly by the government of Saddam Hussein. Some do believe it was an inside job ordered in February 1999 from Najaf, the stronghold of the al-Sadr clan. Muqtada's father-in-law was executed by the Iraqi authorities in 1980. Muqtada is a cousin of the absented Imam Moussa as-Sadr, the Iranian-Lebanese founder of the popular Amal Movement.
Muqtada al-Sadr refers those with religious questions to their own Marja (religious authority). Following his father's assassination he maintained his father's network of charities and social services.
The allegation is based on the fact that the perpetrators used ropes to pull Abdul Majid al-Khoei and his aide's bodies across some alleys near the Shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, and shouted slogans claiming vengeance for the assassination of al-Sadr. The al-Khoei Family, however, do not hold Muqtada al-Sadr responsible and have blamed Ba'athists for the killing.
There was a dispute over the keys to the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf. The mosque contains the tomb of Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad and, according to Shi'a belief, heir to his legacy. It is among the most sacred Shi'a sites, and also the source of a considerable amount of revenue. The traditional hereditary holder of the keys, Haidar Raifee, fled for fear of his life after the fall of Saddam's regime. Some believed Raifee was an agent of Saddam's Ba'ath party, who had informed on countless Shi'a opponents of Saddam's regime.
Abdul Majid Al-Khoei, with the backing and protection of American and British armed forces, felt that he was in a position to broker a reconciliation between Muqtada al-Sadr and the hereditary custodian of the Shrine (or Kiliadar), Haidar Raifee. Al-Khoei escorted Haidar Raifee from hiding back to his post at the mosque. Al-Khoei was accused by many of taking orders from, and thus acting on behalf of, the American government. His support for the Ba'athist Raifee was used as a pretext for his murder by a Shi'a mob.
Witnesses have said that they were confronted at the mosque by an angry mob, some of whom shouted "Raifee is back". They called him an "animal" and threatened to beat him with their sandals (a traditional Iraqi insult.) According to reports, al-Khoei fired his pistol in the air to get the crowd to back off. However, rather than retreating, the angry crowd surged at al-Khoei, Raifee, and the nearby civilians. The mob killed Raifee with bayonets and knives. Khoei was bound, beaten, and dragged by the mob to the doors of Sadr's headquarters. Eyewitnesses told the investigating judge, Raed Juhi, that when Sadr appeared at the door, he was asked by the mob what to do with Khoei. The witnesses reported Sadr answering, "Take this person away and kill him.".
Muqtada al-Sadr claims that the murderers were not his followers, and that he in fact sent men to prevent al-Khoei's murder. The al-Sadr family sent and published official condolences to the al-Khoei family. The initial warrant against al-Sadr produced after U.S. forces decided to shut down his newspaper, Al-Hawza, alleged that members of the mob claimed to be there on al-Sadr's orders, and that he had instructed them not to kill al-Khoei inside the mosque. Al-Khoei's close followers did not blame al-Sadr for the murder, but instead publicly blamed former Ba'ath party members who also hated al-Khoei (in complete contradiction of his kindness to Raifee.) The charges against al-Sadr had been kept secret until his confrontation with US-led coalition forces, leading some to speculate that the charges were a politically-motivated pretext to remove Muqtada al-Sadr's considerable influence upon religious and political matters within Iraq.
In April 2003 his followers, organized as the Sadr Bureau, began providing services throughout Sadr City. The services ranged from health care to food and clean water. Later in 2003, residents of Sadr City meeting in neighborhood caucuses elected neighborhood councils, and ultimately a district council to represent the Sadr City District. The Sadr Bureau, aided by the Mahdi Army, attempted to remove the new District Council by force of arms and occupied the District Council Hall for several weeks. Finally, Coalition forces removed them from the premises, and the elected District Council resumed their duties. Despite this action by the Coalition authorities, the Sadr Bureau and the Mahdi Army have continued to act within Sadr City almost unhindered by US and Iraqi forces. Members of the elected District Council have been continually threatened, and some have been attacked for their alleged co-operation with the Americans.
Sadr responded by mobilizing many Shi'a followers to demonstrations, protesting at the closure of the newspaper, but the demonstrations escalated throughout the week in number and militancy. On April 4, fighting broke out in Najaf, Sadr City and Basra. Sadr's Mahdi Army took over several points and attacked coalition soldiers, killing dozens of foreign soldiers, and taking many casualties of their own in the process. At the same time, Sunni rebels in the cities of Baghdad, Samarra, Ramadi, and, most notably, Fallujah, staged uprisings as well, causing the most serious challenge to coalition control of Iraq up to that time.
Paul Bremer, then the U.S. administrator in Iraq, declared on April 5, 2004 that the militant cleric was an outlaw and that uprisings by the cleric and his followers would not be tolerated. It emerged that, some months earlier, an Iraqi judge had issued an arrest warrant for al-Sadr on charges relating to the murder of al-Khoei. This had apparently been kept secret for some time but was now announced publicly by Bremer. Several senior U.S. politicians suggested that the revolt would push back the date for the transfer of power to the IGC, but the handover nevertheless occurred on June 28, 2004, two days ahead of schedule.
Despite the promises of the Iraqi government, in late July Sadr announced his intention to boycott the upcoming national conference, as did the Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni organization. Although al-Sadr initially promised to support the conference, he changed his mind, claiming through a spokesman that it was "a sad joke" and "a trick on the Iraqi people" because of the allegedly undemocratic process for selecting the delegates. On 31 July, al-Sadr's representative in Karbala, Sheikh Mithal al Hasnawi, and al-Hasnawi's brother were captured by U.S. and Iraqi National Guard troops in a joint raid. Sadr representatives condemned the move, reportedly saying "We demand that they be freed, and if this is ignored then we will respond at the appropriate time."
The June settlement was broken after Iraqi policemen and U.S. troops surrounded al-Sadr's home on 3 August, resulting in heavy gunfire, mortar shelling and grenade blasts. The apparent aim was to arrest al-Sadr and destroy his movement. The decision to extend a firefight into extended combat is reported to have been made by U.S. Marines, without the approval of the Pentagon or the Allawi government.
On August 5, via his spokesman Ahmed al-Shaibany, al-Sadr reaffirmed his commitment to the truce and called on U.S. forces to honor the truce. He announced that if the restoration of the ceasefire failed "then the firing and igniting of the revolution will continue. The offer was rejected by the governor of Najaf, Adnan al-Zurufi ("There is no compromise or room for another truce") and U.S. officials ("This is one battle we really do feel we can win").
In the days that followed, fighting continued around the old city of Najaf, in particular the Imam Ali shrine and the cemetery. The Mahdi army was heavily outnumbered by some 2,000 U.S. marines and 1,800 Iraqi government security forces, and outgunned by superior U.S. firepower, including attack helicopters. On August 13, the resistance was trapped in a cordon around the Imam Ali shrine. The Mahdi resistance is thought to have suffered hundreds of casualties in the fighting, while U.S. Marine casualties were fairly light. (More information on the Standoff in Najaf can be found under the article on the Iraqi insurgency).
On August 25, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, arrived in Iraq and began travelling with a "peace convoy" towards Najaf "to stop the bloodshed." By the next day, an agreement brokered by Sistani required the Mahdi resistance movement to disarm and leave Najaf and U.S. troops to withdraw from the city. Resistance men began handing in their weapons after al-Sadr asked them to do so and left the complex escorted by worshippers. The U.S. welcomed the agreement and vowed to respect a ceasefire. U.S. forces have stayed out of the center of Najaf since, and as of September 2004 the city was largely under the control of the Iraqi police.
On August 30, a tentative peace agreement was reached between the Iraqi government and al-Sadr to disarm his resistance in Sadr City, Baghdad. But the next day, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi unilaterally pulled out of talks, cancelling the peace proposal. The New York Times reported that Allawi had wanted to enter in armed conflict with al-Sadr due to his rising popularity after the standoff in Najaf. Fighting continued in Sadr City into October 2004, with the Mahdi resistance movement sustaining losses numbering in the hundreds. The physical infrastructure of Sadr City also suffered damage during this period and there were reports of substantial civilian casualties. Ultimately al-Sadr agreed to a ceasefire, and subsequently agreed to participate in the January 2005 election process.
Sadr’s considerable leverage was apparent early in the week of 16 October 2006, when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the release of one of Sadr’s senior aides. The aide had been arrested a day earlier by American troops on suspicion of participating in kidnappings and killings.
On October 25, 2006 U.S. soldiers uncovered a book during a raid in the Washash neighborhood in Baghdad with information about the Shi‘ite militia affiliated to Muqtada al-Sadr, Mahdi Army had engaged in a systematic campaign of violence and intimidation to clear out Sunni residents in this town.
On December 27, 2006 Muqtada al-Sadr's top aide, Saheb al-Amiri was killed in a raid by U.S. troops in the Shiite holy city of Najaf
On December 30, 2006 people loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr infiltrated the security detail for Saddam Hussein's execution, chanted "Muqtada" and taunted Saddam, and got it all on film, which then circulated on Arab television and the internet.
On February 13, several sources in the US government claimed that Muqtada al-Sadr had left Iraq and fled to Iran in anticipation of the coming security crackdown. US military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell reinforced this account on February 14, but a member of Iraq's parliament and an aide to al-Sadr have denied the claims. Sami al-Askari, an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki claims "as far as I know he is still in Iran" and "he's a very secretive man." .
On March 30, it was reported that Sadr, through clerics speaking on his behalf, "delivered a searing speech ... condemning the American presence in Iraq ... [and] call[ing] for an anti-occupation mass protest on April 9...." This call to protest was significant in that, since the beginning of the American troop surge (which began on February 14, 2007), Sadr had ordered his "militia to lie low during the new Baghdad security plan so as not to provoke a direct confrontation with the Americans."
Muqtada al-Sadr urged the Iraqi army and police to stop cooperating with the United States and told his guerilla fighters to concentrate on pushing American forces out of the country, according to a statement issued Sunday, 8 April, 2007
The statement, stamped with al-Sadr's official seal, was distributed in the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Sunday 8-April, 2007 — a day before a large demonstration there, called for by al-Sadr, to mark the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.
"You, the Iraqi army and police forces, don't walk alongside the occupiers, because they are your arch-enemy," the statement said.
Al-Sadr condemned construction of Azamiyah wall around a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, on April 25 2007, by calling for demonstrations against the plan as a sign of "the evil will" of American "occupiers".
Following fourteen weeks of hiding, on 25 May 2007 Al-Sadr reemerged. Driving in a long motorcade from Najaf to Kufa, Al-Sadr proceeded to deliver a sermon to an estimated 6000 followers in the main mosque. Reiterating his usual condemnation of the United States presence in Iraq, Al-Sadr's speech also contained calls for unity between Sunni and Shi'a. Many saw the speech as an effort to rein in his militia, which has broken into several factions since his departure. Several of these factions have been accused of violence against Sunnis.
In June 2007, Muqtada al-Sadr vowed to go ahead with a planned march to the devastated Askariya shrine in central Iraq but insisted the goal was not to confront Sunnis who live along the way. Instead, al-Sadr said the march was aimed at bringing Shiites and Sunnis closer together and breaking down the barriers imposed by the Americans and Sunni religious extremists.
Aug. 8, 2008 - Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered most of his militiamen to disarm but said Friday he will maintain elite fighting units to resist the Americans if a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops is not established. ... "Weapons are to be exclusively in the hands of one group, the resistance group," while another group called Momahidoun is to focus on social, religious and community work, Sadrist cleric Mudhafar al-Moussawi said.
As of August 19, 2004, U.S. officials express puzzlement as to al-Sadr's motivations and goals. In his sermons and public interviews al-Sadr has demanded an immediate withdraw of all US led coalition forces, all foreign troops under United Nations control, and the establishment of a new central Iraqi government, not connected to the Ba'ath party or the current Allawi government. He has declared that the Allawi government is illegitimate, and he refuses to cooperate with them; however, his disapproval waxes and wanes depending on the success of negotiations with the interim government. He envisions a Shi‘a-dominated government, much like Iran's, but independent from Iran. He has met Khamenei and "told him that we share the same ideology, but that politically and militarily, I would not be an extension of Iran.
Sadr's followers attempted to seize control of the al-Sistani-controlled holy sites in Karbala in October 2003 but were repulsed, with dozens of people killed and injured. Armed clashes between al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization have broken out with significant bloodshed resulting. However, Sistani has thus far refused to publicly chastise Sadr for the spring uprising against the US led coalition, instead decreeing that both sides should avoid incitement to violence and condemning the coalition for its tactics. This led many Muqtada supporters to believe that al-Sistani's refusal to call for armed attacks on the United States or zionist and imperialist powers is un-Islamic, further polarizing the dichotomy that is the Iraqi shia population toward Muqtada al-Sadr.
The sacred Imam Ali mosque has reportedly been issuing prayers for his safety during the call for prayer, and images of his face have been plastered all over the south of Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr's real power base are a network of Shi‘a charitable institutions, founded by his father, that distributed food in poor Shi‘a areas.
His strongest support comes from the class of dispossessed Shi‘a, like in the Sadr City area of Baghdad. Many Iraqi supporters see in him a symbol of resistance to foreign occupation. It is true that he does not have strong popularity in Najaf, where he is blamed along with U.S. forces for provoking the standoff and the resulting violence. But sociologist Michael Schwartz (SUNY-Stony Brook) argues that al-Sadr's supporters in Sadr City constitute a "proto-government" with many of the trappings of established legitimacy. Naomi Klein, writing in the Nation, has called al-Sadr and his supporters "the single greatest threat to U.S. military and economic control of Iraq."
During the first siege of Fallujah in late March and April 2004, Muqtada's Sadrists sent aid convoys to the besieged Sunnis there. In spring of 2005, the Association of Muslim Scholars (hardline Sunni) accused the Shia Badr Corps paramilitary of having formed anti-Sunni death squads inside the special police commando units of the Ministry of the Interior. This open accusation caused a political crisis between AMS and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Shia fundamentalist party that sponsors the Badr Corps. It was Muqtada al-Sadr who engaged in shuttle diplomacy to calm the two parties down. He could play this role because he had credibility with both sides.
From his side, Muqtada makes a distinction between "Sunnis" on the one hand, and "Saddamis" and "Nawasib" on the other. (Nawasib are those Sunnis who have a violent hatred for the Shias, and nowadays in Iraq "al-Qaeda" would be such a group in Muqtada's eyes.)
In early 2008, Al-Sadr was reported to be studying to be an ayatollah.