On October 9 Saleh al-Auqaeili, a Sadrist member of parliament, was killed by a bomb as he drove through eastern Baghdad. Auqaeili was a university professor, and one of the senior legislators in the 30-seat bloc of Sadrists in parliament. He was also known as a moderate in the movement.
The Sadr Trend at first blamed Iraqi forces and the U.S. for the assassination. Collaboration with the security forces was implicated as the attack occurred 200 yards from an Iraqi army checkpoint in an area that was heavily guarded by the U.S. military. Later, a Sadrist spokesman blamed gangs. The initial announcements however, led to a brief nighttime clash between militiamen and the Iraqi army. Later, U.S. soldiers arrived and one was wounded in the fighting. The next day thousands of Sadrists hit the streets of Sadr City to protest the murder.
As reported earlier, several other Sadrist leaders have been killed this year. The most well known was Riadh al-Nouri, who was gunned down in Najaf in April 2008. Nouri ran the Sadr office in the city, was Sadr’s brother in-law, and was also a moderate.
None of the murders have been solved, but suspicions have focused upon rival Shiite groups and breakaway elements of the Sadr movement itself. Sadrists and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) have had a long running rivalry that has often turned violent. In August 2007 for example, the two had a large battle in Karbala that led to Moqtada al-Sadr calling his first cease-fire. Taking out Sadrist leaders could be a prelude to the provincial elections, because they are the main rival to the SIIC’s rule of most of the southern governorates. The Sadrists themselves have always been loosely organized. Many militiamen have been recruited by Iran to carry out attacks for them in Special Groups. Sadr has also lost standing with some of his followers after the government crackdowns in Basra and Sadr City where he agreed to Iranian negotiated peace deals. Others are also unhappy with his decision to turn the movement into more of a social, religious, and political group rather than a militia. Together, these have all led to more breakaway factions who might be interested in carrying out these acts.
For more on the assassination of Sadrists see:
Sadrist Cleric Assassinated In Basra
Associated Press, “Iraq: Bomb Kills Senior Shiite Lawmaker,” 10/9/08
Felishman, Jeffrey, “Shiite fighters clash with Iraqi, U.S. troops in Baghdad,” Los Angeles Times, 10/10/08
International Crisis Group, “Iraq’s Civil War, The Sadrists And The Surge,” 2/7/08
- “Shiite Politics In Iraq: The Role Of The Supreme Council,” 11/15/07
Klapper, Bradley, “Thousands of al-Sadr supporters mourn lawmaker,” Associated Press, 10/10/08
Reid, Robert, “Shiite politician assassinated in Baghdad,” Associated Press, 10/9/08
Zein, Qassim and Allam, Hannah, “Al-Sadr followers vow to avenge killing of top aide,” McClatchy Newspapers, 4/12/08