Militant Shi’ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr is reportedly considering entry into Iraq’s political process.
Ali Smesim, Al-Sadr’s chief aide, told the New York Times Al-Sadr intends to disband the Mehdi Army and endorse the elections, an allusion the 31-year-old rebel leader has made several times in the past. According to Smesim, Al-Sadr is ready to engage in politics on two conditions: that the UN is involved in the elections, and that the American and British militaries do not interfere.
Al-Sadr has sent representatives to meet with some of Iraq’s major political parties and religious groups, to discuss his possible involvement in the national elections, Smesim said. He recently met with members of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a powerful Sunni organization, as well as leaders of the Kurdish community and Christian and Shi’ite leaders.
Iraqis with whom Al-Sadr’s aides have had contact have also reported that Al-Sadr is courting the assistance of Ahmed Chalabi, the former exile once preferred by the Bush administration as Saddam Hussein’s replacement. Chalabi and his allies, who have publicly fallen out of favor with the occupation authorities, appear to be interested in Al-Sadr’s popularity.
Because Al-Sadr has a large following among Iraq’s poor, his alliance could help strengthen the smaller parties he favors. Furthermore, his involvement in the political process could also help legitimize the January elections in the eyes of many currently disaffected people.
Al-Sadr’s aides say the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani has endorsed his political intentions. Al-Sistani is Iraq’s most powerful Shi’ite religious leader, who has long tried to control Al-Sadr, viewing the younger cleric’s more militant actions as harmful to the Iraqi Shi’ites’ electoral chances.