School students marching in London last February demanding the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq
School students marching in London last February demanding the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq

‘We will work with one hand and save Iraq from darkness’, said militant Iraqi Shi’ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr last weekend.

He said in an interview with Iraqi television: ‘The presence of the occupier and the invading forces in Iraq escalate sectarian sedition and war in this holy country.

‘Every time we extinguish the fire of war, the occupier kindles it.

‘However, thanks to the awareness of the faithful and sincere Iraqis, God willing, all spectres of civil and sectarian wars will be removed.

‘We will work as one hand to build Iraq and save it from the forces of darkness, despite the occupiers, the takfiris (those holding other Muslims to be infidels), the Ba’athists, or other forces which are hostile to the Iraqi people, God willing.’

Asked what can be done to end sectarian or religious tension, al-Sadr said: ‘In every society there are extremists and open-minded people.

‘This is not one of the defects of the society, but it is a natural thing so that there will be a balance in the society.

‘However, the main defect, as I said in a previous answer, is that the presence of the occupier escalates the sedition, not extremism, if we may say so.

‘However, there are booby-trapped cars in these areas, as well as explosive belts, and aircraft for the occupier, of course.

‘All these provoke the national sentiments of many sides. As a result, these sides defend themselves, families, honour, property, religious authority, sanctities and land.

‘All these are in one’s heart, mind, faith, and the natural rules of the human being. Therefore, one should defend himself.

‘However, if all these reasons are removed and had there not been tanks, aircraft, booby-trapped cars, or other acts of violence, which are useless, there would not have been any kind of extremism or civil or sectarian wars.’

He was asked about Christian and Sunni families from some of the Baghdad areas, particularly Al-Dawrah and Al-Amiriyah, seeking refuge in Shia areas.

Al-Sadr replied that they fled because of the occupation forces.

He said: ‘What I want to say again is that as long as the main reason is there the displacement will continue.

‘The main reason is that car bombs and acts of violence come from outside the country under a US cover and upon a US agreement and silence.

‘This makes the residents of Sunni, Shia, and Christian areas leave to other areas.

‘This displacement will continue so long as the occupation troops stay.

‘God willing, there will be a solution. This is why we always call on the Iraqi government to do its job and assume its responsibilities towards the displaced.

‘The government has thus far been negligent in returning the displaced.

‘I urge it to return the displaced to their homes, to assume its real responsibility towards this issue, not to succumb to the US pressures, and to take its natural course as much as it can in order to return the displaced to their areas. We support it in this issue only.’

Asked whether he had changed his position toward Sunnis and other Shi’ite tendencies, Al-Sadr insisted: ‘This is not the truth. I have not moved away from any honest nationalist, Muslim, or Iraqi who seeks to serve the interests of the Iraqi people.

‘I have just distanced myself from anyone who seeks to harm the Iraqi people, land, its unity and independence.

‘I am close to all segments of the Iraqi people. I did not move away from any other party.

‘Yes, there are other sides that showed their teeth, demanded the continued presence of the occupier, and sought to escalate the sectarian strife on the political, social, popular, and other levels.

‘Of course, I disagree with these sides and move away from them.

‘However, saying that I have moved from any party, I say no I have not moved away from any Iraqi party that seeks to serve the interests of the Iraqi people.’

Sadr was asked: ‘Are there practical mechanisms to bring all Iraqis across the political and social spectrum together, at least on the broader lines, not to say in a unified front? Have you set practical mechanisms regarding this issue?’

He replied: ‘As a matter of fact, we are now repulsing a vicious Western assault on Islam. This assault has undertaken upon itself to stoke sectarianism and Western ideas, and to foment disunity among Muslims and brothers, as happened during Saddam’s era, when one has suspicions about one’s brother.

‘Now, we are experiencing this state of affairs. This is not only on the Shia-Sunni level or the Shia-Shia level, but also on the level of the one family and one and his father.

‘This agenda should be met with cultural resistance. We have such a thing even the encyclopedia of Imam Al-Mahdi by Al-Sayyid Al-Wafi in which he says that Jihad is of two kinds; a military Jihad, offensive and defensive; and a cultural Jihad, which is also offensive and defensive.’

Asked his opinion of       the Al-Sadr trend or line, on the political and popular levels, over the past period, at least, Sadr replied: ‘The Al-Mahdi Army and the Al-Sadr trend are only one of the segments of the society.

‘The Al-Sadr trend is a part of the Iraqi people. So, taking care of the Iraqi people is the duty of the Iraqi government, the Iraqi forces, parties, and other Iraqi sides.’

He added: ‘The army is an ideological army, and the trend is a religious and ideological side that serves the Iraqi people.

‘In my opinion, the party does not allow you to serve the Iraqi people freely. Most of the parties seek to serve themselves, but they do not seek to serve their people.’

Asked about the problems in the southern governorates, Al-Sadr said: ‘The main cause is the occupier.

‘The other important cause is very regrettably competition over political posts.

‘This leads to putting some civilians, and the poor and oppressed people under the fire of anyone who seeks to reach posts and seats, very regrettably.

‘This is what is taking place in the south. It is not an inter-Shi’ite confrontation. They are differences that occur from time to time.

‘A few days ago, I met with governorate officials or governors and we have reached a solution. God willing, the obstacles will gradually be surmounted. There will be no inter-Shi’ite or inter-Sunni differences as along as the occupier leaves us alone.’

Al-Sadr was asked whether his reappearance after being absent for a short while had anything to do with the US-Iranian talks.

He said: ‘It was merely a coincidence. I have not thought of this in any way.

‘You know and others, Iraqis or from outside Iraq, know that I refuse to sit with the occupier.

‘I also completely reject interference in Iraqi affairs, whether by Iran or any other side. I always say that the Iraqi affairs are the business of Iraqis only.’

However he pointed out that ‘America is an occupier and Iran is not an occupier.’

He added: ‘My policy is that I should maintain good ties with all parties, including the Iranians. I should maintain friendship and good ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran. There is nothing more than this.’

Asked his opinion on some calls for early elections for the parliament and the political reality in general; Sadr stressed: ‘I reject any call for elections in the presence of the occupier, in the past and in the future.’

Asked about a possible Arab or regional role in the current Iraqi crisis, Sadr condemned Arab leaders:

‘Their silence is negligence, their silence over the presence of the occupier is negligence, their silence over the shedding of Iraqi blood is negligence, and their silence over Iraq’s openness to and relations with the other states is negligence.

‘They say that the destructive (Saddam) had bad relations with the neighbouring and other states. What are the states with which we have good relations now?

‘We have a problem with each of Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

‘So, Iraq was besieged from all directions in order to be isolated from the other states in an attempt to prevent it from being a source that spreads enlightenment, civilisation, culture, faith, religion and Islam.’

Asked his opinion on the situation in Kirkuk, he said:

‘Kirkuk is an Iraqi city. Kirkuk should be a spring of the Iraqi peaceful coexistence among all the sects of the society – Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomen, Christians, Muslims, and non-Muslims.

‘Kirkuk should remain an indivisible part of Iraq. It should be kept away from all dangers. We consider it as an Iraqi holy land that must be defended by all the power we have.’

Asked about talk of a possible coup against the present puppet government, al-Sadr said: ‘The Iraqi people are the ones who should decide this, whether under this or that government.

‘What is important to us is to end the suffering of the Iraqi people, and not who should end the suffering of the Iraqi people, whether this or other government.’

He added: ‘The issue is that the one who will come in the presence of the occupier will do the same as this government is doing and as the previous and other governments do, taking into consideration that they are all under occupation, and you cannot serve the Iraqi people under occupation.’

Asked if the Sadr trend had changed its policy the cleric stressed: ‘No, we have constants.

‘We have broad lines, which we do not cross whatsoever. We cannot cross them in any way, neither in front of the occupier nor before God. We are firm on our constants.’

He explained further: ‘We change something every time the circumstances change. However, constants remain unchanged forever. The broad lines remain so forever.’

He concluded: ‘The future step is Iraq’s independence, unity, and sovereignty; and serving Islam, the people, the principles and the faith. These are our constants which we follow and will continue to follow under any circumstances.’