Shiite cleric courts public's support for power

Move seen as evidence of sect's internal strife

October 12, 2003|By Christine Spolar and Bill Glauber | Christine Spolar and Bill Glauber,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A Shiite cleric who has denounced the American occupation of Iraq is attempting to generate public support for his own self-ordained government, a hodgepodge of ministries aimed at usurping power from the Iraqi Governing Council.

Moqtada Sadr, a firebrand who in postwar Iraq has roused crowds in the poorest neighborhood in Baghdad, announced during Friday prayers that he was creating his own government after continued clashes between Shiite Muslims and U.S. troops.

Yesterday, officials from the Iraqi Governing Council and the U.S.-led coalition dismissed Sadr's ability to win over much of the Iraqi public and questioned whether his political moves would stir up trouble even in the vulnerable and volatile neighborhood of Sadr City.

"Whatever was declared on his behalf was not true ... nor would it create serious unrest," said Iyad Allawi, the current president of the Iraqi Governing Council.

Sadr's announcement, made in a mosque in Al-Kufa near the holy city of Najaf, was shown repeatedly on Arab satellite channels yesterday. It was evidence, some Shiite observers said, of internal political strife within Iraq's largest religious group.

The Shiite community, a majority population that was long persecuted under Saddam Hussein, has been a combustible challenge for the American-led occupation. The killing of Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim by a car bomb in Najaf on Aug. 29 complicated the situation and raised the odds in the American effort to establish a democracy in Iraq.

Al-Hakim, who led one of the most prominent anti-Hussein groups outside Iraq, known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was one of the more moderate Shiite influences. Although he rejected the U.S. occupation, al-Hakim also eschewed religious extremism and violence.

His brother, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, was appointed to the U.S.-approved Iraqi Governing Council. Since the ayatollah's death, however, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim has focused on the fate of Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

In the past week, there have been several confrontations between Shiite Muslims and American soldiers. A car bombing in Sadr City on Thursday, which killed eight Iraqis, heightened tensions.

Thursday night, U.S. troops and Shiites clashed in a disputed incident in the heart of the neighborhood, leaving two Americans and three Iraqis dead, according to representatives of the U.S. military and the Shiite community in Sadr City.

The next day, Sadr announced that he had established ministries of finance, interior, foreign affairs, religious affairs and a ministry "to order people to do good works."

Near the northern city of Kirkuk yesterday, an abandoned section of oil pipeline was attacked, the military said. Although there had been reports that two pipeline workers were killed, a military spokesman said he had received no reports of injuries.

South of Baghdad, near Karbala, an Iraqi police officer was killed and six others were wounded in a hand grenade attack, a police spokesman told Agence France-Presse yesterday.

Assailants hurled hand grenades at a police checkpoint about three miles south of Karbala. The police later detained three men.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Wire services contributed to this report.

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