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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Why people follow Sadr

Maha Adel Mehdi, 32, is an Iraqi legislator
representing Shiite cleric and militia commander
Muqtada al Sadr. Mehdi was a Sunni who converted to
Shiite after becoming a devotee of Sadr's father, a
revered ayatollah who was killed in 1999.

One woman's journey lifts veil on Sadr's appeal
By Hannah Allam
McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Maha Adel Mehdi's awakening came during her college years. She'd ached to hear a voice - just one - that dared to criticize the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and the policies that stifled the dreams of her generation.

Mehdi found her "light of righteousness" in Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, a Shiite Muslim cleric who openly called for political reform and religious freedom until he was killed in a hail of gunfire, along with two of his sons, in 1999.

"There was something in his voice I couldn't resist. I found myself listening until the very end. His speeches were something different," Mehdi recalled. "At the time, I needed someone to set me on the right path. Sadr did that."

Millions of Shiites sought solace in Sadr's words, but Mehdi's story was different: She was a Sunni Muslim when she first heard Sadr's call. Now a 32-year-old mother of two, Mehdi is still serving Sadr, as one of the 11 female legislators loyal to his son, Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia is at the forefront of Iraq's violence.

Mehdi prides herself on the rebellious streak that compelled her to give up her family, her sect and her safety to begin a new life. Her journey helps explain the broad appeal of a militant movement that's able to turn even the unlikeliest of supporters into devotees prepared to face death.

"I read many books until I reached a very clear point that the Shiite way is my way," Mehdi said. "I am ready to sacrifice my life for this path."

Critics accuse the younger Sadr of sullying his father's reputation by sending adolescents to their deaths in two bloody uprisings against U.S. forces, fielding death squads to carry out revenge attacks on Sunnis and turning the family's venerated name into a synonym for thuggery.

Diehard followers such as Mehdi, however, view the younger Sadr's brand of resistance as a natural words-to-deeds progression of his father's defiance. Now, however, the cause isn't toppling a dictator but driving out the American troops who once were hailed as liberators.

posted by Steve @ 3:01:00 AM

3:01:00 AM

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