Demagoguery or Diplomacy: The Case for Engaging Moqtada al-Sadr

Demagoguery or Diplomacy
The Case for Engaging Moqtada al-Sadr
By Jeffrey Coonjohn

The House of Hakim and the House of Sadr have both been long revered among the world’s Shia population. However, there are basic philosophical differences between the two houses that have historically balanced them very well. Simply speaking, the House of Hakim is akin to the Republican Party while the House of Sadr is reminiscent of the Democratic Party. Both of these stalwarts of Iraqi domestic politics are necessary for a stable government. However, for the last six years American foreign policy in Iraq has been directed toward diminishing the power of Moqtada al-Sadr—if not destroying it. This has thrown the balance of power out of kilter and like a top losing momentum; Iraq is wobbling toward an uncertain future.

Understanding the House of Sadr and the House of Hakim in the Modern Context


Historically, Iraqi Shia have tended toward commerce and trade while Iraqi Sunni often led the affairs of state. During the Ottoman Empire, the Turks appointed a Sunni-dominated government in order to balance the economic power of the Shia majority. With the British colonization in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th century, the Shia again found themselves with a Sunni- dominated government. Given their historical underpinnings, the Shia were generally ambivalent toward Sunni governance, yet roiled at the British occupation2. In 1920, the religious leader of the Shia, Supreme Grand Ayatollah al-Shirazi, issued a Fatwa that prohibited Shia from cooperating with or working for occupation governments under non-Muslim control3. This was more of a political statement since few Shia participated in the government anyway. The political landscape of the 1950s, specifically the election of communist-supported Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1951 and the spread of communism, caused concern among the Shia clergy, many of who began to re-examine the long history of Shia absence from politics.

Read More: Demagoguery or Diplomacy Final 3-3-13