- Used Books
- Staff Picks
- Gifts & Gift Cards
- Sell Books
- Stores & Events
- Let's Talk Books
Special Offers see all
More at Powell's
Recently Viewed clear list
Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraqby Patrick Cockburn
Synopses & Reviews
Time magazine listed him as one of its "100 People Who Shape Our World." Newsweek featured him on its cover under the headline "How Al-Sadr May Control U.S. Fate in Iraq." Paul Bremer denounced him as a "Bolshevik Islamist" and ordered that he be captured "dead or alive." Who is Muqtada al-Sadr, and why is he so vital to the future of Iraq and, arguably, the entire Middle East?
In this compellingly readable account, prize-winning journalist Patrick Cockburn tells the story of Muqtada's rise to become the leader of Iraq's poor Shi'ites and the resistance to the occupation. Cockburn looks at the killings by Saddam's executioners and hit men of the young cleric's father, two brothers, and father-in-law; his leadership of the seventy-thousand-strong Mehdi Army; the fierce rivalries between him and other Shia religious leaders; his complex relationship with the Iraqi government; and his frequent confrontations with the American military, including battles that took place in Najaf in 2004. The portrait that emerges is of a complex man and a sophisticated politician, who engages with religious and nationalist aspirations in a manner unlike any other Iraqi leader.
Cockburn, who was among the very few Western journalists to remain in Baghdad during the Gulf War and has been an intrepid reporter of Iraq ever since, draws on his extensive firsthand experience in the country to produce a book that is richly interwoven with the voices of Iraqis themselves. His personal encounters with the Mehdi Army include a tense occasion when he was nearly killed at a roadblock outside the city of Kufa.
Though it often reads like an adventure story, Muqtada is also a work of painstaking research and measured analysis that leads to a deeper understanding both of one of the most critical conflicts in the world today and of the man who may well be a decisive voice in determining the future of Iraq when the Americans eventually leave.
"Cockburn (The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq), a veteran Middle East correspondent for The Independent, knew the Iraq occupation was doomed when, in 2004, his Irish passport saved him from certain death at the hands of Mehdi Army militiamen convinced he was an American spy: 'Bush and Blair never seemed to understand that the problem was not training or equipment, but legitimacy and loyalty.' Building on this idea, Cockburn takes a close look at Muqtada al-Sadr, the country's major Shi'ite opposition leader, who has been consistently demonized and belittled by U.S. authorities even as he gains legitimacy among Iraqis. Calling him 'the most important and surprising figure to emerge' in post-invasion Iraq, Cockburn details Muqtada's rise, beginning in 1999 when he took his assassinated father's place as head of the Sadrists, a populist religious movement. Mounting frustration toward the U.S. led many to join the Sadrists, the only Shia group to oppose outright the occupation, quickly making Muqtada the political representative of millions. Cockburn's incisive critique of U.S. policy mistakes in Iraq goes back to the first invasion, and draws some dire conclusions, among them that it's too late for Iraq 'to exist as anything more than a loose federation.' This probing look at a singularly divisive, undoubtedly important figure makes an invaluable resource for anyone weighing U.S. policy in Iraq." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
The last word that Saddam Hussein heard as the executioner's noose was being tightened around his neck was "Muqtada." As in Muqtada al-Sadr, the young Shia cleric who had survived his persecutor to lay claim to Iraq. Americans may be tempted to dismiss Muqtada as mainly a nuisance — too young, inexperienced and unstable to thrive in Iraqi politics. But it was Muqtada's men who executed Saddam, and... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the movement associated with him has grown enough to threaten U.S. plans for Iraq, most recently by plunging the southern metropolis of Basra into battle and by roiling Baghdad's Sadr City, the massive Shia district that bears his family name. As veteran British journalist Patrick Cockburn's authoritative biography should make clear, it is unwise to assume a future for Iraq that does not include Muqtada al-Sadr and his movement. Americans need to learn more about him, and Cockburn's empathetic, insightful study is a good place to start. Having covered Iraq for more than three decades for London's Independent and the Financial Times, Cockburn is well placed to introduce readers to this forbidding, enigmatic man and his blood-soaked past. Muqtada was born in 1973 into the Shia clerical aristocracy as the son, son-in-law and great-grandnephew of famous religious scholars. Saddam murdered his venerated father and father-in-law — along with two of his older brothers — making them martyrs in Shia eyes. As their heir, Muqtada seeks to rally the poor with a mixture of Shia populism, Iraqi nationalism and anti-Americanism. He is now finishing the Shia march to power his kinsmen started, taking on U.S. forces and intimidating his Sunni countrymen in the process. Muqtada's tale is full of violence and rage, and Cockburn spares few bloodcurdling details in recounting the wounds that Iraq's Shia majority has suffered over the course of its long struggle for a voice in the country's politics. As a child Muqtada watched his father, severely tortured for his impassioned sermons, turn into a recluse who prayed night and day. But his agony pales before Cockburn's poignant description of the massacres and mass graves that became the fate of the Shia after their ill-fated uprising in 1991, following America's victory in the first Gulf War. Cockburn puts paid to the claim, so often heard in the Arab world, that the U.S. invasion gave rise to violent sectarianism in Iraq. Plenty of pain was inflicted on Shias before March 2003. Cockburn also dispatches the facile notion, popular in America, that a shared vision of democracy and prosperity could have readily displaced the sectarian divides and violent past that haunt Iraq. Muqtada and his movement for Shia supremacy emerge from these sobering pages as a natural product of the Iraqi Shias' tortured history and their inevitable rise in Iraq since the removal of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-minority dictatorship. Muqtada's populism — voicing the frustrations of the Shia poor and promising them a path to power — is only part of the reason for his steady rise. Anti-Americanism also plays a role. When the U.S. occupation began, the Shia grand ayatollahs in Najaf — the venerated "cardinals" of the faith — looked down on the young, relatively uneducated Muqtada, derisively calling him "the kid." They encouraged their flock to vote in U.S.-backed elections and were content to let U.S. troops fight the mostly Sunni insurgency. But Muqtada never took the grand ayatollahs' line. He rejected the occupation, and after a massive bomb destroyed the Shia shrine at Samarra in February 2006, his Mahdi Army went looking for revenge on Sunnis. Many Americans interpret Muqtada's avoidance of open sectarian talk and his rejection of dividing up Iraq as signs that he is willing to accommodate Sunnis. But this is a fallacy; he wants a united Iraq in which Sunnis submit to the will of the Shia majority. Still, the Sadrist phenomenon is not a case of unbending ideology riding straight to power. Muqtada has survived so far, Cockburn argues convincingly, because he knows when to retreat and how to shift alliances. After losing to U.S. troops in Najaf in 2004, he sought protection from Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, whom he had earlier tried to dislodge from the city. Recently, he ordered his followers to stand down when fighting in Basra and Sadr City threatened a direct confrontation with U.S. forces, and he again looked to Sistani to deflect pressure to disband his militia. Today, Muqtada hunkers down in Iran and relies on military and financial support from Tehran, something he once ridiculed his rivals for doing to escape Saddam. Of course, more chapters in Muqtada's life story remain to be written. He confronts challenges from factions within his own movement, including renegade militiamen, messianic pretenders and some of his father's students. He also faces the prospect that the new Iraqi government, though Shia-dominated, will try to assert its unrivaled hold on the country by bringing military pressure against him. And he cannot ignore the continuing criticism of Shia clerics such as Sistani, who has shown displeasure with Mahdi Army tactics, or the possibility that the Iranians may push him aside in favor of other Shia actors (or render him a mere figurehead) as they seek to honeycomb southern Iraq with their own "special groups" operating under the Mahdi Army's name. Cockburn is good at showing complexity: The Sadr movement is not poised to become a state within a state like the Lebanese Hezbollah anytime soon, nor will it simply melt away. In all likelihood, it will change as the endgame of the American occupation nears and the competition for power quickens. This means we, too, will have a hand in what becomes of Muqtada and his movement. Vali Nasr is a professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and author of "The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future." Reviewed by Vali Nasr, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
From one of the bravest and most-respected correspondents in the Middle East comes the first-ever biography of the formidable, young Shiite leader, who many predict will take over Iraq after the Americans leave.
About the Author
Patrick Cockburn is the Iraq correspondent for The Independent in London. He has visited Iraq countless times since 1977 and was the recipient of the 2004 Martha Gellhorn Prize for war reporting and the 2006 James Cameron Memorial Award. He is author of The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq, which was shortlisted for a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2006.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Other books you might like