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Now here is an interesting statement: "I am willing to fight, but not now, not until Saddam is caught." If there are many like this, perhaps afraid that Saddam will take over again if the US is expelled, then if the US eliminates Saddam it may not diminish the attacks, but unleash them. =*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*= Young cleric finds focus for anger of Baghdad's poor =================================== By Kim Ghattas Financial Times; Jul 30, 2003 In Sadr City, a poor Shia neighbourhood of Baghdad formerly known as Saddam City, unemployment runs high and security is scarce, but young men have found an outlet for their frustration. Thousands of them have rallied around Muqtada Sadr, a junior, controversial but increasingly popular cleric and responded to his call 10 days ago to form a Shia-based army, the "Mehdi army". (Mehdi is the awaited, promised one in Islam). Mr Sadr, thought to be 30, is the son of the revered Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq Sadr who was murdered in 1999 by Saddam Hussein's regime. The young Mr Sadr now enjoys a wide following from Shia Muslims who are faithful to the memory of his father. "I am a volunteer and I want to fight against the Americans because they are not providing us with anything, there's no security here, women cannot go out on the street," said Sarmad, a 24-year-old unemployed man from Sadr City. "I will do whatever Sadr orders," he added. When pressed about whether he was ready to fight the Americans, Sarmad replied: "I am willing to fight, but not now, not until Saddam is caught." No official number has been given but clerics and Iraqis interviewed assessed that the number of volunteers for the Mehdi army was equal to the number of followers of Mr Sadr: around 2m Shia from all over Iraq. Men wishing to volunteer can sign up at offices near mosques aligned with Mr Sadr. Representatives at these offices in Sadr City refused to answer questions. But young men loitering on street corners did not hesitate to speak about their new aim in life. "I am a volunteer, I will do whatever Sadr tells us to do," said Kathem Rissan, 29 and unemployed. "I'm not sure what the aim of the army is or when we will fight, but I will follow Sadr's orders," he added. Asked whether he thought Mr Sadr's project could threaten the unity of the Shia community and that of Iraq, he replied with some anger: "Muqtada Sadr knows what he's doing, he is a wise man and we listen to him." But there were many in Sadr City who said they disapproved of the Mehdi army. "I am a Shia but I am an independent, I don't follow any cleric," said a bookshop owner in the slum who gave his name only as Ali. "I don't approve of this idea of an army for one section of the Shia. Anyway, an army is an arm of a government, since there is no government, this army is a militia, and a militia spells trouble." Ali el Imami, a neighbourhood sheikh, deplored the blind following of Mr Sadr by so many young men he described as hot-headed. "Young Shia are looking for an identity and Sadr's call for a jihad has moved them," said Sheikh Imami, who is a follower of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, leader since 1999 of the Hawza, the highest Shia religious authority. "They are not over the loss of Ayatollah Sadr, they have been oppressed by Saddam and now they have found Muqtada Sadr. They are ready to die for him." For the moment however, the Shia militia seems to be more of a symbolic gesture by a young cleric attempting to make a name for himself and reflects the power struggle for leadership of the Shia community. The Hawza has distanced itself from Mr Sadr and the Najaf city council has warned him not to incite the faithful to violence during Friday prayers. "We don't believe there is a real plan to actually form this army and send it to fight," said Sayyed Hashem Awadi, a follower of Sistani. He said more time should be given to the US to prove its intentions in Iraq. He also said that through dialogue, the Hawza and Iraqis in general were still able to make the Americans listen to people's concerns. "But let there be 2m people volunteering for this army, [and] perhaps the Americans will feel under more pressure to deal with problems here seriously." ________________________________________________________________ The best thing to hit the internet in years - Juno SpeedBand! Surf the web up to FIVE TIMES FASTER! Only $14.95/ month - visit www.juno.com to sign up today! _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk