Behind the lies

What is the truth about Muqtada al-Sadr’s connections with Iran?


Behind the lies
by yasmine

The inter-shia fighting in late March and early April in Basra and Baghdad has once again been used by both imperialist warmongers and apologists for the islamic regime in Iran to create confusion and spread misinformation about various factions of the shia United Iraqi Alliance - Dawa, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), and the Mahdi army (until September 2007) - and their relations with Iran.

On Tuesday April 8 general David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, made the latest in a long string of accusations against Iran and its “destructive” role in Iraq, including its financing of militia groups. He implied Iran had supported the Mahdi army in the recent battle for Basra, conveniently failing to mention Tehran’s support for the US occupation government in Baghdad. Ironically the same false claims are being used by Tehran apologists to ‘prove’ Iran’s credentials as an anti-imperialist force supporting the Iraqi resistance.1

However, the realities of the current inter-shia conflict are more complicated and, as most news agencies reported last week, it was in fact pressure from the Iranian regime, intervening on behalf of Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, that forced Muqtada al-Sadr to order his Mahdi followers to cease fire;2 and it is the same pressure that forced him this week to contemplate disbanding his militia if “the highest shi’ite religious authority demands it”,3 as well as call off the anti-occupation demonstration planned for April 9.4

A week is a long time in politics and an even longer one in shia politics. On March 31, al-Sadr repeated his criticism on Al Jazeera TV of Iran’s interference in Iraq and in particular of ‘supreme leader’ Ali Khamenei: “On my last visit to Khamenei I advised him - no, I reminded him - that I do not agree with Iran’s political and military aims in Iraq, and Iran must end this interference in the affairs of Iraq.” In the same interview with Al Jazeera, al-Sadr called on the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to oppose the occupation:

“I appeal to these parties to add legitimacy to the resistance and to stand by, not against, the Iraqi people because the Iraqi people need Arabs as much as they need any other person … The occupation is trying to divide sunnis and shias. It is trying to drive a wedge between Sadris and the sunnis. I love the sunnis. I am a shia, but we are all Iraqis.”

These comments, and in particular the reference to ayatollah Khamenei, were strongly attacked by newspapers and websites close to the Iranian ‘supreme leader’. The conservative website Tabnak, referring to Al Sadr’s “impudent” comments, writes: “This person was always a suspicious character. As elders have said, excessive militancy is a sign of either ignorance or treachery ... From the very beginning this group has failed to take a single step in the interests of islam. How dare he advise ayatollah Khamenei?”5 Other pro-Khamenei sites have dug out old documents claiming to prove that Muqtada al-Sadr’s father advised the shah’s court on shia practice, giving guidance to the shah’s closest ally and minister of court, Assadallah Alam.

As far as the shia leaders in Iran are concerned, al-Sadr’s emphasis on Iraqi nationalism and his call on the Arab League to show solidarity with the Iraqi resistance were tantamount to a betrayal of shia principles and over the last week al-Sadr has come under considerable pressure from the religious hierarchy in Ghom. His conciliatory moves, culminating in the cancellation of the April 9 anti-occupation demonstration in Baghdad, prove al-Sadr’s pragmatism in dealing with the shia establishment.

However, there is nothing new in either al-Sadr’s anti-occupation rhetoric or his criticism of Iran, and he will return to those themes if and when he feels the balance of forces in Basra or Sadr city is shifting in favour of his group. Over the last few years he has repeatedly stated his opposition to Iranian interference in Iraq and advocated Iraqi political unity against ‘Persian’ influence. He believes that the religious leadership of Iraq should be in the hands of ethnic Arabs, not the ethnic Persians who currently make up the higher echelons of the shia clerical establishment in Najaf.

Maybe that is why al-Sadr has recently been spending a good deal of time in Tehran, travelling twice a week to study at a seminary in Ghom in order to become an ayatollah (and presumably to change the balance of forces amongst high-ranking clerics in Najaf). Yet he realises that until such a day he has to compromise with the existing ayatollahs and grand ayatollahs (ayatollah ol ozma), such as Khamenei and Sistani. Here lies the root of his inconsistencies.

The Iranian regime is well aware that its current dominant position in the region following the coming to power of a shia government in Iraq, thanks to the US-UK invasion, is deeply resented by all Arab regimes. In addition Iran is currently in dispute with the Arab League over three islands in the Persian Gulf allegedly occupied by Iran. The League summit has urged the United Arab Emirates to seek “legal and peaceful ways” to regain the three islands (not forgetting the dispute about the name of the waters in question - Persian Gulf according to Iran, Arab Gulf according to the League).

To call on the Arab League to intervene in a dispute amongst shia factions is seen by Iran’s theocracy as total betrayal - it is as if two factions of the IRA had asked Ian Paisley to mediate between them at the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Iranian clerics spent last week reminding all factions of the Iraqi shia coalition of their responsibilities regarding the future of shias in a sunni-dominated region.

No-one is in any doubt that Tehran (and all factions of the regime) considers the current occupation government in Iraq as its main ally and, although publicly Iranian leaders often call for an end to the occupation, the Farsi blogs associated with the Islamic Republic Party are perfectly candid about the risks of such a withdrawal, gently reminding the shia faithful that the government of “our brotherly neighbour”, Maliki, will fall in the absence of US troops. Ironically they share this particular stance (opposition to US military withdrawal) with their arch-enemies on the soft left in Britain, such as the Euston Manifesto and Alliance for Workers’ Liberty!

The communiqué following Ahmadinejad’s visit to Iraq in March reflects the current official position of the Iranian government: “Iran has once again stressed the need for strengthening the national unity and territorial integrity of Iraq, voicing full support for prime minister Maliki’s national reconciliation plan, aimed at encouraging the presence of Iraqis of all walks of life in the political process of the country. The two sides denounced all types of terrorism against human beings, economic centres, state facilities and religious centres in Iraq. The islamic republic of Iran also voiced full support for the Iraqi government and the nation’s resolute will to continue their all-out campaign against terrorist and criminal activities.” Iran’s president announced $1 billion in loans, as well as a clutch of trade pacts with Iran’s “brotherly” neighbour.

However, despite Iran’s commitments to the Maliki regime and the war of words between supporters of ayatollah Khamenei and al-Sadr, Iran has long-term ambitions in Iraq. That is why, in the tradition of Realpolitik pursued by islamic clerics since the day they came to power, Iran will maintain ‘good relations’ with all Iraqi shia groups and leaders (including those the USA first attempted to foist on Baghdad, like Ayad Alavi and Ahmed Chalabi), warning them all about the dangers of in-fighting, while waiting to see who will gain the upper hand in current and future conflicts.

Tehran support

Iran’s decision to give full support to Iraqi shia opposition groups dates back to the Iranian revolution in 1979. During the Iraq-Iran war (1980-88), the Iranian clergy organised the pro-Iran, Iraqi shia opposition parties - Sciri and the Islamic Dawa Party.

Sciri was led by ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, who was among about 100 people killed in a car bomb in Najaf in August 2003. At the time many blamed al-Sadr for the attack - Hakim had offered support to the US-appointed governing council. Following his death his brother, Abdel Aziz, took over as leader of Sciri and is now a minister in the Maliki government.

The Dawa party is the oldest of the shia groups. It was set up in the 1950s as the religious party, al-Dawa al-Islamiya. Along with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Al-Dawa is an integral part of the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), a coalition of religious shia parties conceived and blessed by grand ayatollah Ali Sistani. Prime minister Maliki is a leading Dawa figure.

Although anti-occupation sentiment is growing by the day amongst all Iraqis, including the shia population, the vested interests of most shia political groups and clerics, not least their allegiance to the clerics in Iran (or from Iran in the case of Sistani), ensure that they remain part of the problem - ie, the imperialist occupation - rather than part of the solution.

Of course, in Basra there is a force worthy of support: Iraq’s oil workers and their union. However, even here, the influence of the shia religion and ayatollah Sistani, at least amongst individual leaders of the union, including Hassan Jomeh,6 can only lead to compromise with this or that faction of the shia coalition. One factor that has differentiated Iranian oil workers, who played a historic role in bringing down the shah’s regime, from the oil workers in Basra is the persistence of religious allegiance amongst members of the leadership, including of Naftana, the UK support committee for the Iraq Federation of Oil Unions (or at least those we have heard). Many are influenced by Sistani, who is no more than a representative of the landowning, merchant classes in Iraq.

True to his faith, Sistani is committed to do all in his power to create the kind of social disaster that will ‘precipitate’ the return of Imam Mahdi (the nine-year-old 12th imam who fell down a well 12 centuries ago and will soon rise from it again to rescue the world). While Ahmadinejad is building motorways to aid Mahdi’s speedy return, and Muqtada al-Sadr is preparing his army, the Jaish Mahdi, pious shia capitalists are doing their best to create the kind of hell on earth that should result in the resurrection of the 12th imam. Meanwhile the ayatollah ol ozma such as Khamenei and Sistani try their utmost to fool the masses with simplistic rhetoric and silly decrees, while holding out to the poor the promise of heaven and a better life after Mahdi’s return.

Sistani produces not only a list of recommended candidates at election time: he actually produces a list of everything you should do from the moment you wake up to the moment you go back to sleep. Sistani’s website provides guidance to the faithful for every trivial aspect of their lives - from the way they should drink water, to the way they should put down a pen, to the kind of music they should listen to. The question and answer section in Farsi and English covers matters as diverse as whether it is acceptable for a shia women to carry a mobile phone to the procedure to follow if a dog should lick your clothes … Yet there is a remarkable absence of any ‘answers’ regarding what most would consider the burning issues - eg, the privatisation of Iraqi (or for that matter Iranian) oil,7 privatisation in general or the US occupation itself. Repeated attempts by devout shias (and at times not so devout ex-shias) to use the interactive Q&A section of Sistani’s website in order to obtain a response on these issues have drawn a blank.

Until the anti-imperialist, anti-war working class forces, including the Basra oil workers, rid themselves of their illusions in all the shia or sunni political parties and their conservative leaders, in Iran and in Iraq, revolutionary forces will not be able to defeat the “bringers of death and destruction in Iraq”.

The systematic destruction of Iraq could not have happened without the help of Iran and its protégés in the shia coalition of the occupation government. Of course, Baghdad has a long way to go before it attains the level of corruption achieved by its “brotherly” neighbour in Tehran, whose theocracy holds the unenviable ranking of 179th out of 179 countries on Transparency International’s ‘corruption perceptions index’.8 Nor have they yet managed the levels of privatisation achieved by the islamic regime in Iran.9

However, when it comes to exploitation, capitalism and its inevitable consequences, one can already see where the shia factions of Iraq are heading. That is why workers in Iran and Iraq - and oil workers in particular - share a common struggle against war, against occupation, but also against privatisation and rampant corruption.


1. See, for example, Sami Ramadani on the Stop the War Coalition’s website: =578&Itemid=27
2. Reported on many Iranian sites, including Akhbar Rouz:
3. The Independent April 8.
4. =0310 30120080408184803
6. See
9. =Economic


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more from yasmine

Anonymous1326 ROCKS!

by Mehdi on

I was trying to come up with something to say and found it very difficult. Then I read the comment by "Anonymous1326" titled "A clear evidence that leftist dreams are still aliveand" and I thought, "there is no way in hell I could come up with a better thing to say about this waste-of-time article!" I mean, he is right on the money!


Good article, but my eyes strated to gloss over when...

by Anooshirvan (not verified) on

the author started "outing" Sistani as a tool of merchants and landowning classes, and the fact he opines about everything. I don't know about the author but my reaction was, what else is new?! I have news for this author and that is there is a reason why they call this dude, "majra-e taghleed". Look it up, it's self explanatory. Then she goes on to deplore the religious leanings of the Iraqi oil workers and how irritating they are to their Iranian counterparts. She leaves me wondering what the Iranian Oil workers have achieved versus the mollahs in Tehran and Ghom? I seriously doubt that all Iranian oil workers are as "secular" as the author wants us to believe. I have no doubt that Moghtada and all Iraqis including Shieh, Sonni, Christian and even the Kords ultimately want to pull their country out of the jaws of the US-UK invaders. To achieve that goal Moghtada and others will accommodate Iran's influence, but I have no doubt Iranians know the limits to their influence and will use the levers of their influence carefully. The desirable outcome of all this should be a friendly and "federalized" Iraq which will not be a threat to the security of Iran regardless of the type of government in Iran. A peaceful federal Iraq may show the way to the federalization of Iran and Turkey whose awkward centralized systems are outdated and counterproductive for peace and progress in that region. BTWE, did someone mention the Arab League?

K Nassery

I have changed my mind about al Sadr.

by K Nassery on

Could he be an Iraqi nationalist?  He does command a militia, but time after time, he has committed to truce.  He has withdrawn his people from the Parliament/Iraqi government and then put them back in.  Yes, he is a thorn to the goals of America in Iraq, but Iraq is his country and might he not be looking at what he thinks is best for his country.  He told his people to be patient, despite the murder of his own brother in law yesterday.

 I don't believe in religious people holding power over militias, but in Iraq under Saddam, so many Shiites and Kurds were murdered that I can understand their emotional needs of self protection. 

 I would communicate with al Sadr.  I would try to get him to work with the Iraqi government.  I would push for Provential elections because a balance between provence and federal governments protects the rights of minorities. 

Anyway, I'm not sure that al Sadr is the monster that some media portray him to be.  His actions are not those of a monster.

 We aren't going to hope for a Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq, but there should be a government that represents the will of the Iraqi people and al Sadr does represent Iraqis.

 BTW.... I am not a communist so I really can't see the aruguments of the original poster as valid.  Communism is great in theory, but millions seem to die when it is put into practise.  I don't know why modern day communists fail to see this.


nice name

by Anonymous123 (not verified) on

Every time I hear the name "Muqtada al-Sadr" it reminds me of "AKoono Mutata" from Disney Cartoon.

best to all


Re-Leftism or Islamism?

by sz (not verified) on

Cogent, succinct, well placed and timely debunking argument against tried and flailed petrified commie theories repackaged as nuova leftism, bravo.

Jahanshah Rashidian

Leftism or Islamism?

by Jahanshah Rashidian on

The author blames the IRI and its proxy Shiite militias in Iraq for not being real anti imperialist, but the bogus anti imperialist. What a discovery! What does allegedly distinguish these fake anti imperialist forces from the real ones, implicitly, the author’s favourites, the Basra’s oil workers? What happens if these “bogus” anti imperialist Shiites are the “real” anti imperialist Shiites?--Should we still support them because of their anti imperialism?-- The author knows that Islamists are anti West and anti imperialist by another definition than Marxist one.

The paradox is that still a spectrum of the left seems to "conditionally" support any anti imperialist, as it happened when the Tudeh Party’s and its ally, the Fedaeyn Majority’s "conditionally" supported the “anti imperialist" IRI during the early atrocities of the regime.

The left should tell us if the value of a notion of anti imperialism is defined by Lenin—imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism before its inevitable collapse which opens the way for socialism-- or it is at best defined by Islamistst's anti West-- when the Islamic God’s state expands a new universal Dar-al Islam?

If you keep oscilliating between the two definitions, then you need another "Das Kapital" or comrades like Chàvez, Tudhist trash and North Korean leaders to theorise the antithesis.

If not, and the Lenin's prophecy will finally occurs, Who is your ally and what is your plan?

Are we really in an optimistic period of "ghost of communism in the West"? Could this "ghost" bestow peace, justice and democracy since its shadow covers the West?

I wonder, if apart from the bankrupt Tudeh Party, Iranian leftists can adapt themselves to an era that people need more freedom and democracy than an ideologically antagonistic "

anti imperialist struggle" for an illusionary world.


Iranian regime is the

by Farhad Kashani (not verified) on

Iranian regime is the godfather of almost all Islamic fundamentalist movements in the whole world. They either support them inspirationally or physically. Even they admit supporting groups like Hezbollha, Hamas and others. Let alone figuring out thing they do not admit ! Not accepting that this regime is the godfather of all Islamist movements in the world shows inability to understand the nature, philosophy and cause of existence of this regime. Using some outdated, cold war era, leftist political theory along with parroting what some misguided news organizations such as Fox, CNN, BBC, Keyhan or Al Jazeera analyze as “news” will not help you at all understand this regime. This regime has destroyed our country and has been the biggest threat to world peace since day 1 of its existence. The world is just starting to realize that now. Way too late! It is unthinkable to see an Iranian, like the author of this article, defend this regime.


They Better Not

by Dariush (not verified) on

I am skeptical. Last thing they need is yet another division. One would think they be smart enough not to make such a mistake. Al-Sadr could have not and can not last long without Iran's support and they are taking a big risk if they are counting on Saudis and other Arabs.
In spite some promises Moqtada my have gotten from Al Maliki, Once they partition themselves from Iran, they will be disarmed, destroyed and put in jail to eliminate risk of any future threats to U.S./ Al Maliki.
This has alway been the case. Make promises, divide, destroy, concur.


A clear evidence that leftist dreams are still alive

by Anonymous1326 (not verified) on

Auhtor of this article has worked very hard to analyze situation in Iraq according to leftist theories and included a lot of leftist misconceptions about the relations between different elements in Iraq so that she can come up with sloganistic conclusion which, as always and based on leftist dreams, ends with putting the most backwarded forces (shiites and Moqtada Al-sadr)in collision course with oil workers (the jewl of progressive force according to leftist theoris) and story turns to be the same old "class struggle" which, according to theory, has only one way to go!

About a century and half after formation Paris Commune, which lasted only two months, and around a hundred years after October Revolution in 1917, Iranian leftists dreamers are still wasting their time and other's to explain and justify their ways and theoris about "anti-imperialism" struggle of "working class" which exist only in their minds rather than in reality. The most interesting aspect of the "anti-imperialist" theorists is that none them have ever been able to explain and justify the extent of misery of people and government's corruption under their favorite system through out the world and the 180 degree turn in China's politics towards "privatization" or capitalism.

Another interesting matter about these "anti-imperialists" is that they appear and grow like mushroms everywhere in the land which represents the peak of capitalism in the world to advise others that how bad imperialism is.

Apart from these, considering Moqtada Al-Sadr more than a clown and stooge of "dark forces of backwardness" in the politics of Iraq is just missing the whole point about why Iraq is in current situation. United States was not crazy about bringing democracy to Iraq and in fact, Americans never believed that democracy is compatible with middle eastern societies (including Iraq and Iran) to go there, get killed and spend $billions for Iraqis or Afghanis. Moqtada Sadr and other mullahs in and out of Iraq are all part of a more comprehensive plan for the whole region to make everything look like a natural struggle for power between forces. So far, other than some collateral damages, the plan has worked well!


Overall a nice analysis

by Abarmard on

Good point Anonymouse

The article is good and informative with some small parts that I don't agree with. The fact that Al-Sadr is a nationalist is without a doubt true, but there is a movement in the region that is looking towards Muslim brotherhood until they win. Once they accomplish their task, be it independance or Islamic Republic, then they will have to resolve their issues. For now, Iran is a close ally to all the factions in Iraq and Iraq and the west needs Iran more than any other time in hisotry.


Nokar does not wanna remain a nokar forever

by Fatso finder (not verified) on

The truth of the matter is that Mullahs in Iran think they can own anything they want since they got plenty of Iran's oil money to spare but nokar will not remain nokar and subservient forever. Any nokar eventually wants to gain his independance and be his own man (remember the late shah, of course in his case, he was thrown out of the country for finally standing up to the bullying powers).

Meanwhile, we should never forget the fact that mullahs are extremely cunning and not barge choghondar! Well in any case I would not shed a tear for that turbaned fatso. He will hopefully get what he deserves after all the bloodshed and crimes he is reponsible for.


Interesting article

by Anonymouse on

I wasn't aware Al-Sadr had "advised" Khamenei.  It will be interesting to see what he does when he goes to Qom next time.  Are they going to give him a certificate in Qom for his studies? Who is actually going to call him an Ayatollah?  Someone in Iran (Qom) or someone in Iraq?