Political Figure / Religious Figure
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Fiery young anti-U.S. cleric in post-Hussein Iraq
Muqtada al-Sadr is a fundamentalist Shiite cleric who has opposed U.S. and British operations in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Though al-Sadr was quite young at the time of Saddam's fall -- he claimed to be 30 -- he came from a powerful clerical lineage: according to the Council on Foreign Relations, "His father, the Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, was the most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq in the late 1990s. His uncle, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, was a leading Shiite activist before his execution by Saddam Hussein's forces in 1980." (Though Shiites make up the majority of Iraq's population, under Hussein the minority Sunni Muslims dominated the Iraqi government.) Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr was murdered in 1999 by agents of Hussein, at which time Muqtada al-Sadr went underground with some followers of his father. They emerged after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and al-Sadr quickly became a vocal critic of the allied forces and of President George W. Bush. He formed a militia, the so-called Imam Mehdi Army, which provided the military muscle to back up his statements. In April of 2004, after violent uprisings were blamed on al-Sadr and his followers, the United States announced its intention to arrest al-Sadr for complicity in the murder of a rival cleric, Abdel Majid al-Khoei, in April of 2003.
Al-Sadr claimed to be age 30 in 2003, but some sources insist he is actually several years younger; Time magazine said in 2004 that “many of his associates admit [al-Sadr] is more likely 23.”