Friday, August 20
Who is Muqtada al-Sadr?, August 13, 2004

How has Muqtada al-Sadr gained so much attention?

Believed to be about 30 years old, al-Sadr is the son of a grand ayatollah and a man with a mission.

The firebrand cleric was little known outside Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion.
Now with fighters loyal to him holed up in Najaf's Imam Ali Mosque -- one of the most holy places in Shiite Islam -- he has become the focal point of anti-American sentiment.
Al-Sadr has promised to fight to the death against U.S. forces in Najaf.

"I will continue to defend Najaf as it is the holiest place. I will remain in the city until the last drop of my blood has been spilled."
These are powerful and symbolic words that resonate with the Shiite community, its history and tradition.

"It evokes the idea of the Karbala paradigm which is martyrdom, death, commitment, sacrifice and passion," says Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic scholar at the American University in Washington.

About 1,300 years ago, Imam Hussein uttered similar words before he battled his enemies in Karbala, knowing he would be killed but willing to die fighting.
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