Iraq: Muqtada al-Sadr on the Hezbollah Trail…….

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The men, once members of the Mahdi Army, the militia of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, fought the Americans in the first years of the occupation and say they will again if Mr. Sadr gives the order. But for now they have come to wage a different battle in the ranks of the Mumahidoon, the successor to the Mahdi Army that, besides offering its members lessons in the Koran, organizes soccer teams, provides circumcision for the babies of poor families, picks up trash after religious pilgrimages and teaches computer literacy. On the eve of what is likely to be a nearly complete withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq, one of the great questions is what Mr. Sadr is going to do. The Mumahidoon is one possible direction. Created after Mr. Sadr disbanded the Mahdi Army in 2008, it is a lesser-known spoke of an Islamist movement that, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and in the West Bank, has used political, military and social arms — with financial support from Iran — to galvanize a Shiite underclass and stake out a prominent role in public life………….

Muqtada al-Sadr seems to be moving on the trail first blazed by Hezbollah in Lebanon. Years ago, while the potentates and the elite warlords in Beirut were busy looking after their own interests, with the traditional Shi’a politicians doing the same thing, Hezbollah emerged quickly on the heels of Amal. Hezbollah, and Amal, filled a role the Lebanese government had never cared to fill: it provided education, health care, and social services to the neglected poor of southern Lebanon and increasingly to the inhabitants of south Beirut. Both groups together now represent a plurality of Lebanese. The Israeli invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon further strengthened Hezbollah with volunteers, as did the inflow of Iranian money.

Hamas, on the other end of the spectrum of Islamic fundamentalism, the Sunni end, did almost the same thing. While the Fatah kleptocrats in Ramallah were fighting over the division of foreign aid among themselves, Hamas provided many of the services the PA was supposed to provide, and ended up winning the last Palestinian elections.

Now the Sadrists clearly see a need that is neglected by the warring and grasping politicians in Baghdad. If they continue on this path, the Sadrists will control the city of Baghdad, if not in name then in every other way that counts. They will not have the distraction of a border conflict with Israel.