Scores of thousands of supporters of al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr's socio-political movement Tayyar al-Sadr (Sadr Movement, also known as Tayyar al-Sadri, "Sadrist Movement" and the Sadriyoun, "Sadrists") rallied across Iraq today against the continued United States military occupation of their country. Sadrist news sources have claimed that "millions" of its supporters and other Iraqis have attended rallies against the occupation today, though these numbers are unverifiable and probably exaggerated. Nonetheless, photographs of the rallies in places such as the southern Iraqi Twelver Shi'i shrine city of al-Najaf al-Ashraf suggest that estimates of tens to scores of thousands of attendees is highly plausible.
Muqtada himself was not present, as he is currently pursuing education in the Twelver Shi'i religious seminaries of the Iranian shrine city of Qum (Qom) in the hopes of rising in the ranks of religious scholarship. A speech he penned, however, was read to cheering crowds in al-Najaf by a leading Sadrist cleric, Shaykh Hazem al-'Araji. Muqtada, through al-'Araji, called for the unity of all Iraqis, particularly Sunni and Shi'i Muslims, against the foreign occupation of the country: "We are embarking on a new phase with no place for the occupiers and the oppressors, (for) the Ba'thists and the terrorists, nor the dissidents or terrorists, nor those who are sectarian, (nor) for those who filled the prisons with resistance fighters." The last comment is a thinly veiled reference to the current Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, who in 2008 ordered a crackdown on Sadr Movement activists and its paramilitary wing, the Mahdi Army, in the southern Iraqi port city of al-Basra and other areas in the south of the country in order to shore up his then-alliance with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC, also referred to as the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq).
Muqtada also called the "rejection of all forms of sectarianism and discrimination" in order to achieve Sunni-Shi'i unity. Those who seek to "cling" to power should be thrown out, he said. The thousands of Sadr Movement supporters shouted "(Absolutely) No, no to the occupation! (Kelaa, Kelaa, Ihtilaal) and "Yes, yes, to the leader (Muqtada)!"
The Sadr Movement represents many of Iraq's poor Shi'is, who form the majority of the country's Shi'i community, whereas there one-time rival, the SIIC, represent more affluent Iraqi Shi'is. The al-Sadr family, which has deep roots in Iraq, did not leave the country during the brutal reign of the Iraqi Ba'th Party under the executed dictator Saddam Husayn. Two of the family's most prominent religious scholars, Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, were murdered by Saddam's regime, the former in April 1980 with his sister Amina bint Haydar al-Sadr (known as "Bint al-Huda") and the latter in February 1999 with two of his sons.
Many members of the al-Hakim family, who lead the SIIC, left Iraq during the 1980s and 1990s, and did not return until May 2003. These included the founders of the SIIC, Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim and his brother, al-Sayyid 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Hakim, who died last August of cancer. The al-Hakims were close to the Iranian government, first under Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Ruhullah Musavi Khumayni, who personally backed the founding of the SIIC in November 1982, and then under his successor, al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei. The al-Sadrs remained Iraqi (religious) nationalists and firmly Arab in their identity, whereas the al-Hakims initially adopted a form of Khumayni's theory of the "authority of the jurisconsult," wilayat al-faqih.
Muqtada Al-Sadr Speech (April 9)