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Iraq violence as puritans ban alcohol

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  • Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
    Iraq violence as puritans ban alcohol Radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his army of devotees blamed for campaign of intimidation Rory McCarthy in Baghdad
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2004
      Iraq violence as puritans ban alcohol

      Radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his army of devotees blamed
      for campaign of intimidation

      Rory McCarthy in Baghdad
      Sunday August 1, 2004
      The Observer
      Guardian, UK - Jul 31, 2004

      First came the warning: a sheet of paper stuck to the door of Na'aman
      Khalil's shop ordering him to close his off-licence. 'You are
      corrupting the people of the Earth and you should stop,' said the
      message, signed by a group calling itself the Monotheistic Movement
      of Jihad.
      Five days later, a parcel of explosives detonated just outside the
      building, smashing the windows and gutting the shop. Four other
      alcohol stores along the same street in Baghdad's largely Christian
      al-Ghadir district were bombed that same night.

      No one was injured, but the message was clear. After the bombings and
      a spate of other attacks across Baghdad, most of the city's alcohol
      shops closed.

      'They have achieved their aim. Whatever they wanted, they have got
      it,' said Khalil, 24, who says the bombing cost him seven million
      dinars (around £2,600) in destroyed stock. 'If I open the shop again
      I don't know what action they would take. Probably they would kill

      There have been no arrests, but police and many Iraqis blame the
      attacks and explosions on supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, a radical
      Shia cleric. A few days before the warning letter arrived, several of
      al-Sadr's followers met around 30 Shia tribal leaders in the al-Hekma
      mosque in Sadr City, the slum area in eastern Baghdad which forms the
      cleric's powerbase.

      They produced an edict, obtained by The Observer, in which they
      listed nine crimes punishable by death. These included theft,
      kidnapping, robbery, spying 'for the Wahabis, al-Qaeda and
      Saddamists', trafficking in women, and selling alcohol, pornographic
      CDs and drugs.

      The edict, it states, was drawn up because of the 'critical and
      sorrowful situation and lack of security and to serve the common
      good'. Most of the tribal leaders who signed were from Amara, Kut and
      Nasiriyah, towns in southern Iraq where a Shia uprising in April was

      'After the end of the dispute between our army and the Americans, our
      army is working on stability and controlling the looters and other
      violent groups,' said Sheikh Raed al-Kadhimi, one of al-Sadr's aides
      in Baghdad. He boasted of a number of checkpoints and patrols in Sadr
      City, and said one had captured several hundred tonnes of stolen
      sugar, which he said were returned to the government.

      The movement, made up largely of young, unemployed urban men, has
      easily moved into the power vacuum left by the absence of properly
      trained and equipped Iraqi police and security forces.

      'Neither the government nor the police are controlling the
      situation,' said al-Kadhimi. 'The al-Sadr tide is the only active
      tide in the country.' He denied that his men took part in the attacks
      on alcohol shops: 'We have never taken such action. All this has been
      done by fanatical individuals.'

      Much of the movement's strength is in its organisation. The group has
      its own religious police, the al-Amur bil Ma'arouf, or Promotion of
      Virtue. They have divided Baghdad into three areas: east, west and
      the central Kadhimiya area, home to the biggest Shia shrine in the
      city. Each area has its own unit. In Kadhimiya it numbers around 40;
      in the eastern sector, around Sadr City, it is at least 100 according
      to Sayed Adnan al-Safi, an al-Sadr official and editor of one of the
      movement's newspapers. He said the groups are unarmed and co-operate
      on patrols with the regular police, although the Interior Ministry
      has denied any involvement.

      'In Kadhimiya we have minimised and controlled places where alcohol
      is sold. We have controlled the sale of immoral CDs and we have
      stopped fraud,' said al-Safi. 'People have begun to understand and
      are co-operating with us to control the general violence. We are not
      issuing any punishments ourselves, otherwise we would be considered a
      state within a state. We pass cases on to the police for punishment.'

      There is little doubt that the movement is about more than
      controlling crime. In the past week al-Sadr's followers have
      proselytised among Iraq's minority faiths. A group of them delivered
      a video of speeches by al-Sadr to the Armenian Orthodox church in
      Baghdad. A priest, who asked not to be named, said the speeches
      criticised the Christian faith. 'We have been living in Iraq for 100
      years and have never had a problem between Muslim and Christian,' he
      said. 'These people are explaining the Koran in the wrong way. Islam
      is a religion of peace and humanity.'

      Until now al-Sadr has boycotted the political process in Iraq,
      reviling the government as 'illegitimate'. But according to al-
      Kadhimi, the movement could develop a political dimension if its
      leader ordered one. 'From the beginning we have been asking for fair
      and honest elections,' he said. 'We will have to see what happens [at
      general elections] in January.'

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