Despite reports that Muqtada al-Sadr, the rebellious clergyman who returned to Iraq this week after four years in Iran, has adopted a “moderate stance,” his speech at a mosque in Najaf on Saturday proved quite otherwise. He is, still, militantly anti-American, and he’s served notice on Prime Minister Maliki’s government that any deal with the United States to extend the American troop deployment in Iraq past the end of 2011 is out of the question.
Here, collected from a wide variety of news accounts, are a series of direct quotes from Sadr’s speech, delivered to thousands of enraptured religious Shiites who treated his return to Iraq like the return of the so-called Hidden Imam. (In fact, like many of his co-religionists of the extreme or fundamentalist persuasion, including Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Sadr appears to believe that he’s paving the way for the imminent return of the Imam, who is said to have vanished mysteriously thirteen centuries ago. Sadr’s followers plastered Najaf with posters proclaiming Sadr to be “The Preparer,” i.e., one who prepares the return of the Imam.)
Most of Sadr’s speech, however, was entirely earth-focused:
“We say to the Iraq government: Enough occupation and enough slavery! We heard that the government has pledged to get the occupation out, and we are waiting for the promise…. We’re watching you…
“This year, we have been overwhelmed with politics, so overwhelmed with politics that we have forgotten that we are an occupied country, and that our first objective should be to get rid of the occupation. It is a legal and religious obligation…
“Resistance, yes, resistance! But not everyone will carry weapons. Only those qualified will carry weapons.
“Let’s annoy the occupier.… What’s up? Are you scared of the Americans? [Crowd: ‘No, no to America!’] That’s better.”
What Sadr’s return means, exactly, for Iraqi politics isn’t completely clear. Some analysts, quick to underscore Sadr’s anti-Americanism, have pointed out that Sadr is a powerful enough player in Iraqi politics today that he can singlehandedly prevent Maliki from endorsing the extension of the American troop presence in Iraq, as advocated by the Brookings Institution and by Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. ambassador top Iraq. Indeed, last week, Maliki proclaimed his intention not to ask for US forces to stay past the deadline of December, 2011, saying instead that Iraqi forces could handle security challenges on their own.