Sadr Cultivates Respect, Image to Reflect Power

Militia chief moves toward mainstream, hones clerical chops
By Sam Gale Rosen,  Newser Staff
Posted May 27, 2008 1:49 PM CDT
Iraqis display banners of Shiite radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr during a protest march in the neighborhood of Shula in northwest Baghdad, Thursday, April 4, 2008.   (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)
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(Newser) – Muqtada al-Sadr aims to shed his reputation as a dim-witted thug and become a respected Iraqi cleric like his father, the Washington Post reports, and has even spent the past year studying in Iran. Sadr, then nicknamed "Muqtada Atari" for his love of video games, was 25 when the 1999 assassination of his father left him head of Iraq's largest Shiite opposition group.

"His brain was thick," says a merchant in the neighborhood where Sadr grew up. Sadr now counts hundreds of thousands of followers, and the Mahdi Army he created in 2003 does his bidding—though what that bidding should be has him conflicted. "He feels that he does not own himself anymore," a friend says of Sadr's role in Iraq's future.