Friday, January 19, 2007

by Renato Caprile, special correspondent
published in "La Repubblica", 19th January 2007 (print edition only)
(translated from the Italian by parvati_roma)

“A secret army is against us but the Shi’ites will resist”
Moqtada al Sadr speaks: “Allawi is the US’s man, not Maliki”

BAGHDAD - He feels hunted and is in hiding, he never sleeps in the same bed for more than one night. Some of his most trusted followers have turned their backs on him and he has even moved his family to a secret hideout. Moqtada al Sadr feels the end is near: too many enemies, too many spies infiltrated amongst his people. But he's not accusing al Maliki, whom he considers little more than a puppet, so much as Yad Allawi, the former Prime Minister on whom he believes the Americans are still betting. This is the man he views as the true artifice of the operation that aims to wipe him and his Mahdi Army off the face of Iraq.

Caprile: So how did it come about that al Maliki, whose government until recently included no less than six ministers from your movement, suddenly came to the conclusion that the religious militias, and yours most of all, are the real problem that must be solved?

Al Sadr: “Between Abu Assara (the “father of Assara”, the name of Maliki’s daughter – ed.) and myself there have never been very warm relations. I always suspected he was manipulated and I never trusted him. We have only met on a couple of occasions. On the most recent of which he said to me “you are the backbone of the country”, and then he confessed that he was “obliged” to fight us. Obliged, you understand?”

Caprile: The fact remains that your people are about to be struck with an iron fist.

Al Sadr: “The operation has already started. Last night they already arrested over four hundred of my men. It is not us they want to destroy, but Islam - we are only an obstacle. For the time being, we shall not put up any resistance against them.”

Caprile: Do you mean that you will hand in your weapons?

Al Sadr: “During muharram (the holy month commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein over six hundred years ago, ed.) the Quran forbids us to kill. So let them kill us if they want to, for a true believer there is no better time to die: Paradise is assured. But God is generous, not all of us shall die. After muharram the tide will turn.”

Caprile: Some say that the army and police are heavily infiltrated by your men and that the marines would never be able to disarm you on their own.

Al Sadr: “The truth is exactly the opposite: it’s our militia that’s swarming with spies. And in any case, it’s not a hard task to infiltrate a people’s army. And these are the very same people who have been committing unworthy deeds to discredit the Mahdi Army. There are at least four armies ready to strike us. One is a “shadow force” which no-one ever talks about, trained under the most secret conditions in the Jordanian desert by the Americans. And then there’s the private army of Allawi himself, that infidel who will soon take Maliki’s place, which is readying itself for the fray in the former military airport of Muthanna. Then there are the Kurdish peshmergas, and lastly there are the American regular troops.”

Caprile: If what you say is true, you have no hope of standing up to them.

Al Sadr: “We too are very many. We represent the majority of the country, who do not want Iraq to become what Allawi is dreaming of: a secular state, a slave to the western powers.”

Caprile: For the last week you have been officially in the crosshairs. The government maintains that without their leader the religious militias are militarily weakened.

Al Sadr: “I am aware of this. This is why I moved my family to a safe place. I even made my will, and I keep constantly on the move, making sure that only a few people know exactly where I am. But even if I should die, the Mahdi Army would still continue to exist. Men can be killed, faith and ideas cannot.”

Caprile: It has been said that amongst the crowd watching Saddam’s execution you too were present. Is this true?

Al Sadr: “This is absolute rubbish. If I’d been there they’d have killed me too. As for Saddam, I certainly shed no tears for the man who massacred my family and tens of thousands of my people. But if it had been up to me, I’d have had him executed in a public square so all the world could see.”

Caprile: Even if you weren’t there, can you deny that the execution room was full of your men?

Al Sadr: “No, those were not my men. They were people paid to discredit me. To make it seem I was the person really responsible for that hanging. The proof lies in the fact – just listen to the audio – that when they recited my prayer they left out some essential parts. A mistake that not even a single child in Sadr City would ever have made. The aim was to make it seem Moqtada was the real enemy of the Sunnis. And they succeeded. Some time back, I was received with full honours in Saudi Arabia. But straight after that charade under the gallows my spokesman al Zarqani, who was making the pilgrimage to Mecca, was arrested. An all too explicit way to make me understand that I was no longer listed amongst their friends.”

Caprile: In any case, the war between you and the Sunnis goes on.

Al Sadr: “It is true that we are all Muslims and we are all sons of the same land, but they must first distance themselves from the Saddamists, from the radical groups, from Bin Laden’s men, as well as repeating their “No” to the Americans. All we’re asking is for the ulemas to accept these conditions of ours. They haven’t yet done so.”

Caprile: “Can it really be true that there is nothing but blood in Iraq’s future?”

Al Sadr: “If the future is a country split in three, I cannot see any alternative. That is what Bush wants so he can control us more easily, but it’s certainly not what the Iraqis want. In my opinion, there is only one possible way a solution can be reached: immediate withdrawal by the Americans.”