They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you. Bush - Joint News Conference with Blair - 28 July '06

Monday, February 06, 2006

Iraq: Al-Sadr offers an alternative

yahoo/ap: Al-Sadr Grabs Iraqi Political Limelight

Behind most of Iraq's protests over cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad has been one increasingly important figure - the fiercely anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr, whose militia has fought U.S. troops and rival Shiite groups for prestige and power since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, has been meeting Middle East heads of state, including Iranian leaders and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

His political supporters won 30 seats in Iraq's 275-member parliament, giving al-Sadr considerable clout in the dominant Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance.

"That's not bad for a man people once regarded as inexperienced and ineffectual," Iraqi analyst Mustafa al-Ani said from the United Arab Emirates.

He also said the cleric posed a strong challenge to the Shiite old guard, including Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of Iraq's largest Shiite political party, and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. "He is going to compete with them for the Shiite leadership," al-Ani said.

Al-Sadr, in his early 30s, offers an alternative to Iraqis furious at the government's inability to restore security and basic services and to those opposed to the presence of U.S.-led troops.

In a sign of his popularity, particularly among younger Shiites, al-Sadr has drawn thousands of supporters onto the streets to denounce Denmark, where the drawings of the Muslim prophet were first published, and other countries where newspapers reprinted the images.

Some 5,000 protesters rallied outside a government building Monday in the southern city of Kut, burning Danish flags and calling for the 530-member Danish military contingent to be booted out of Iraq. The demonstration came a day after a gunman shot at Danish soldiers, children hurled stones at another patrol and a homemade bomb was defused near their base in Qurnah, 300 miles southeast of Baghdad.

"All these things add up to the idea that we might not be as popular as we have been as a result of the Prophet Muhammad drawings," said Capt. Filip Ulrichsen of the Danish contingent. Read more