The Sadr Brotherhood
This story by Sam Dagher in L'Orient-Le Jour shows that militant Islamic populist Moqtada Sadr is solidifying his political and social base. Last year at this time, Sadr was preparing his symbolic stands at Karbala and Najaf, which the US would try to thwart by airstrikes and ground assault, laying near waste to both cities. According to area expert Juan Cole, today al-Sadr supporters control several southern Iraqi provinces--and the hearts and minds of Iraq's disadvantaged.
Moqtada Sadr wins support thanks to free circumcisions.
Three bearded and stocky militants hold onto a crying 9 year-old while an ex-military doctor lifts up his white abaya to circumcize him, all part of a campaign financed by Moqtada Sadr. You'll be fine, sayyed Moqtada will come and visit you, whispers Moushtaq Abdelwahid, 27, into the child's ear. A giant portrait of dark-robed Moqtada with dense eyebrows hangs on the wall next to the child.
Dr. Amer al-Ankabi 44, approaches Karrar, who is still crying, and examines him. He determines that he'll need plastic surgery to repair the damage done by a first circumcision. It was poorly performed the first time, says the child's father, Ahmed Abdelkadhim, 33. Karrar leaves the examining room as his brother Hussein, 4, enters. The doctor performs the circumcision. A few minutes later, the smiling Mr. Abdelkadhim clasps his crying son triumphantly in his arms. Hussein receives chocolate candy and a note saying: Gift from the Sadr Martyrs' Bureau, in reference to the father of Moqtada Sadr, Mohammed Sadeq Sadr, who was assassinated in 1999.
A hundred or so anxious parents, clutching an infant or holding a child by the hand, await their turn in the Sadr Cultural Center in the poverty-stricken al-Amel quarter of west Baghdad. Circumcision is an obligation for Muslims, as for Jews. Neighborhood posters and a loud speaker outside the building advertize free circumcisions. This campaign is made possible thanks to God, but please refrain from bringing musicians inside, shooting into the air or any other act which may violate the precepts of Islam, warn the posters.
This is like my wedding day, said Riah Abboud, 30, while holding his son Mustapha, who has just been circumcized. In the center courtyard, Mr. Abboud and several Shi'ite imams wave colored banners, Iraqi flags and portraits of Moqtada Sadr. We are doing this to help poor families, says Sheikh Mahmoud al-Soubaih, a Sadr supporter, who is in charge of supervising the circumcision campaign. We want to share the suffering of the people, he adds. The center teaches culture and the Koran to counter the influence of the US invasion, he emphasizes.
Collective circumcisions are nothing new in Iraq. They used to be organized between July 17 and July 30th in Baa'th party offices to celebrate the rise to power of Saddam Hussein.
The campaign run by Moqtada supporters is a calculated move to win support among the poor in preparation for the general elections in December. Even if he says he is not interested in a governmental post and continues to project an ambiguous attitude concerning Iraq's political process, Moqtada Sadr sent twenty of his supporters to Parliament as part of the Shi'ite United Iraqi Alliance
There's a time to study and a time to fight. Sayyed Moqtada has asked us to study, says Ammar Sabah, 33, member of the Mahdi's Army, Sadr's militia, which fought United States troops in 2004 before agreeing to lay down their arms in September. Mr. Sabah states that he's studying art. He is surrounded by other combat veterans of Najaf and Baghdad's Sadr City who have come to help with the mass circumcisions. The center is open to non-Shi'ites. Ahmed Jamil and his wife, Sunnis from Ramadi, west of the capital, proudly exhibit ther circumcized sons.