Sadr Spokesman: Mahdi Army to Become a "Non-political" Cultural Organization
London -- Salah al-Ubaydi, Iraqi member of parliament and official spokesperson for the Al-Sadr Trend, led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has described the Al-Mumahhidun [the pavers, who will pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Shiite imam] project as a social and cultural plan that has nothing to do with politics.
He noted that "the plan targets young men or males only," but that there are special programs for women and children that are run by the Institution for Women and Children belonging to the Sadrist Trend.
Al-Ubaydi told Asharq Al-Awsat in a telephone interview that "this project is linked to the decision that Al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr issued over a month ago when he divided the Al-Mahdi Army into two parts: The first includes thousands and millions of Al-Mahdi Army elements, who have been banned from carrying arms and who have been ordered to engage in religious, cultural, and social programs; and the second includes those who will be chosen by leader Muqtada al-Sadr to form jihad brigades and fight against the occupation forces." He said that "such brigades are yet to be formed and we are waiting for the outcome of the negotiations over an agreement between Iraq and the United States."
The Iraqi Member of Parliament told Asharq Al-Awsat, "The Al-Mumahhidun project will deal with the first part of the Al-Mahdi Army, that is, those who will engage in religious seminary-related and cultural awareness programs." He added that "the Al-Mahdi Army will be transformed into a non-political cultural and social organization."
The Al-Sadr spokesperson stated that the religious and cultural institution will manage the project and that the Al-Sadr Trend will supervise the students of the religious seminary belonging to it, "It supervises their educational, religious, and life affairs." Al-Ubaydi added.
Al-Ubaydi went on to say that, "This supervision will allow the Sadrist Trend to nominate lecturers and figures, who will contribute to the implementation of the Al-Mumahhidun project on the religious level. As for the cultural level, there is a cultural commission that is in charge of determining curricula and nonreligious cultural programs provided for those participating in this project." He noted that "Al-Sayyid Kazim al-Hairi, the Al-Sadr Trend religious authority, will supervise the kind of curricula that will be offered."
Concerning the nature of the nonreligious cultural programs that will be offered to the Al-Mumahhidun in an effort to raise their awareness, Al-Ubaydi said, "We have witnessed the emergence of educational programs that suit the occupation stage and the ideas associated with it, such as the division of Iraq into northern, central, and southern regions, including the Kirkuk problem, which is affecting us today. Some giant institutions have started to implement these educational programs in a systematic way." He added, "As for our educational programs, they will be directed toward adhering to Iraq's unity and the need not to divide it." He continued, "Moreover, pro-occupation institutions encourage secularism. They work toward portraying religion as being responsible for the murders that have taken place and accuse it of encouraging sectarian fighting, whereas the truth is that no sectarian fighting has taken place in Iraq. Instead, these are terrorist crimes committed by terrorist groups (Al-Qaeda), and our Sunni brothers confronted these groups when the truth about them was exposed." He said, "We want to direct the Al-Mumahhidun toward the unity of the Iraqi people, regardless of any sectarian, religious, or nationalistic considerations." He added, "All Iraqis are equal. What we care about is the strong unity of all shades, groups, and formations of the Iraqi people."
The spokesperson for the Al-Sadr Trend denied that this project is directed toward forming a state that has a religious nature. He said, "There are no plans to form a religious Islamic state. We adhere to a nationalistic state that guarantees the rights of all formations and religious and ethnic shades of the Iraqi people." He added: "This has made us adopt a certain position toward the Kirkuk problem. We want to guarantee the rights of minorities, particularly Kildans and Assyrians, away from the interests and struggles of major powers." He noted that "these programs will be implemented by cultural institutions belonging to the Sadrist Trend, such as the Higher Cultural Commission and the Baqiyyatallah Cultural Centers." He added, "Over 120 centers are spread all over Iraq for more than a year now."
He went on to say, "These centers will represent the basis from which the Al-Mumahhidun project will be launched." Al-Ubaydi also said: "The Al-Mumahhidun project will revive the literacy campaign that we started in 2006, and as a result of which we managed to help more than 1,000 Iraqis become literate." He added, "The program will improve the educational level of those who had to quit their education for political, economic, or social reasons, and will include programs that care for the children of martyrs." He explained that "there are private schools belonging to martyr Al-Sadr's office that are registered at the Ministry of Education (Abdallah al-Radi schools). These schools have been open for five years in Al-Najaf and Al-Sadr city. More branches will be opened in the other Iraqi governorates." He added, "These schools provide a good level of education." Concerning young women or females, Al-Ubaydi said, "The Al-Mumahhidun project targets males.
As for females and young women, they have their own cultural, educational, social, and religious programs through the Women and Children Commission belonging to martyr Al-Sadr's office." As for the parties financing these programs, the Al-Sadr Trend spokesperson said,"Martyr Al-Sadr's office has investment projects inside Iraq, such as real estate and other economic projects that finance our programs." He denied that the religious authority in Al-Najaf is providing them with financial support. He said, "The truth is that we have never asked religious authorities for any financial support."