I’ll give you my thumbnail sketch:
Moqtada Sadr is a youngish cleric (I think he’s in his early 30s). His father, now deceased, was a very well known and popular cleric. In fact, the Shia slums of Baghdad is named Sadr City after his father. Moqtada has traded on his father’s popularity to build a power base, particularly among the poorer Shia.
Ayatollah Ali Sistani is a very popular and well respected Shia cleric has called on the Shia to avoid violence and to cooperate (to a point) with the occupation. He is 78, very important cleric and his call for moderation has been a brake on Sadr’s behavior. To paint them in broad brush strokes Sistani is more a theologian who appeals to people’s better sides, while Sadr is a hot head rabble rouser.
Sadr has flirted with outright rebellion, while pulling back a bit, and Sistani has flirted with condeming Sadr, but come back fromt he brink. Neither man wants to take on the other head to head.
Last week Sistani went to London for heart surgery. He is very important to the coalition forces. I don’t think he is a puppet, but he is a voice of reason who can calm the increasing angry Shia of Iraq.
While Sistani was out of Iraq (the very next day), Sadr made his power play and his people started fighting the coalition. He made a point of launching his attack from Najaf, a very holy site to Shia and is sure to get a lot of support from Shia world wide.
The uprising is spreading throughtout the Shia south and parts of Baghdad. Sadr city is a battle zone and fighting flares up elsewhere in the city. Last night there was a pretty good gun battle behind my house between US and Sadr forces.
It’s not quiet an open rebellion yet. A lot of Sadr’s men are outright thugs and their mafia like behavior in Shia communities has really turned some people off. BUT he is quickly building a reputation as a Shia leader and his defense of the Najaf holy city plays well to his potential base.
I assume the allies are using the absolutely best cardiologists in the world to get Sistani up and running so that he can call for calm ASAP. If Sistani dies, it will be very bad for the coalition and for stability in Iraq.