On the 9th of April 2003 the American forces rolled into Baghdad and waiting Shi’ites rejoiced at the sight. Their arrival marked the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime under which the Shi’ites, making up two thirds of the population of Iraq, had known only suffering.
But before long there was one figure in the Shi’ite community who was marking his opposition to the presence of allied troops. Moqtada al-Sadr.
Descended from a long line of prestigious Shi’ites in Iraq, his own father, a senior Shi’ite cleric, had been assassinated by Saddam Hussein in 1999.
Moqtada, though only in his 30’s, had inherited his father’s status. He also inherited the running of his father’s charity which had long fought for poorer Shi’ites in Iraq’s big towns.
Immediately after the US-led invasion his charity distributed food to the poor.
But by the June he had created a militia group, called the “Mehdi army”, despite the arms controls put in place by the Americans.
He said the army was needed to protect Shi’ites in the town of Najaf.
Up to 60,000 men are said to have joined up.
The army then rose up against the allied forces and it was only thanks to the mediation of the Grand Ayatollah, Ali Sistani, that the confrontation was defused.
Moqtada al-Sadr became a symbol of the Iraqi resistance to occupation
While enjoying the notoriety of violence he also likes to play the political card. In December 2005 his supporters took part in parliamentary elections as part of a Shi’ite coalition called the United Iraqi Alliance.
They won 32 seats in the 275-seat parliament and his supporters also enjoy ministerial posts in the American-backed government.
The Mehdi army continues to patrol Shi’ite areas claiming a protectorate role. But as insurgent attacks have spiralled the Sunni’s and the Americans have accused al-Sadr’s army of being behind increasing violence and killings, all denied by Moqtada al-Sadr.