Inside a Baghdad slum left barren by war

Baghdad/Amman, 19 September 2019 (AFP) – Sadr City, a Baghdad slum seen as symbol of Saddam Hussein’s downfall, is virtually bereft of electricity and clean water and remains one of the main flashpoints of…

Inside a Baghdad slum left barren by war

Baghdad/Amman, 19 September 2019 (AFP) – Sadr City, a Baghdad slum seen as symbol of Saddam Hussein’s downfall, is virtually bereft of electricity and clean water and remains one of the main flashpoints of the Iraqi sectarian conflict.

In recent years, it has also become a hub for Shiite militiamen who are accused of carrying out massacres in clashes with mainly Sunni rivals in the broader conflict.

The complex sweep of death, poverty and sectarian violence is embodied in Sadr City, located in the centre of Baghdad.

It was the country’s first city to see a mass demonstration in 2003 when vast numbers of Iraqis took to the streets against US-led occupation forces.

Saddam’s military was eventually ousted from power in 2003 and Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia was chased out of neighbourhoods after clashes with rival fighters that killed thousands.

As Sadr, now an influential cleric, seeks to heal the rift among followers, locals are wary of his plans to enter politics.

“We want his father to lead us again to advance … and to return Baghdad to the global capital of holy cities,” a woman in the central square told AFP, referring to Moqtada Sadr’s father, Imam Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr.

Another resident who requested anonymity said Sadr’s uncle, Ayatollah Isa Qassim Mohsen Sadr, remains the “top Imam in the city”.

“But Moqtada is the true Imam who always sends peaceful messages and sits as a spiritual guide to follow us, the (Shiite) residents,” he said.

As he repeatedly vowed to rebuild Sadr City, a day after the election, Moqtada Sadr said, “No matter who wins, the struggle for freedom and human rights must continue.”

Washington has long praised Moqtada Sadr for his actions during the Iraq war.

But after his militia, the Mehdi Army, began to turn against US and Iraqi forces in 2007, the authorities outlawed the militia, putting Sadr under house arrest.

Sadr initially backed Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki but grew disillusioned after he ousted him from the prime minister’s office in 2009.

Moqtada Sadr later formed the Al-Ahrar Movement to contest the country’s parliamentary elections in May 2018.

Hanging behind Moqtada Sadr’s campaign poster is a picture of Iraqi late dictator Saddam Hussein and two protesters carrying a fist raised above their heads, clutching rifles.

Inside Sadr City, protesters call for dignity and full sovereignty, as the harsh reality of the aftermath of the US invasion in 2003 persists in unshakable anonymity.

In recent years, residents say most of the electricity in Sadr City comes in the evenings and on weekends from private generators.

But during the day, life is not better. Residents sleep mostly without electricity.

As people queue to buy food, the price is among the world’s highest, many citing corruption as the main cause.

And jobs are few and far between.

Iraqis speak of the mayor’s decision to assign a few labourers to pave the street which serves as a major thoroughfare.

The workers, many of them Shiites employed by Sunni-owned companies, are among the lucky ones who found a job during the height of violence that reached a peak after Daesh seized control of Mosul in June 2014.

Throughout the city, the crimes committed by militiamen known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) are almost taboo, even though they are overwhelmingly Shiite.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have both suggested the PMF should disarm.

As Sadr seeks to heal the rift among followers, locals are wary of his plans to enter politics.

“We want his father to lead us again to advance … and to return Baghdad to the global capital of holy cities,” a woman in the central square told AFP, referring to Moqtada Sadr’s father, Imam Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr.

Another resident who requested anonymity said Sadr’s uncle, Ayatollah Isa Qassim Mohsen Sadr, remains the “top Imam in the city”.

“But Moqtada is the true Imam who always sends peaceful messages and sits as a spiritual guide to follow us, the (Shiite) residents,” he said.

As he repeatedly vowed to rebuild Sadr City, a day after the election, Moqtada Sadr said, “No matter who wins, the struggle for freedom and human rights must continue.”

Washington has long praised Moqtada Sadr for his actions during the Iraq war.

But after his militia, the Mehdi Army, began to turn against US and Iraqi forces in 2007, the

Leave a Comment