Hussein amidst Hasans: The al-Sadr Intifadas of 1999

By David Siddhartha Patel
Submitted to Session P4841 (Social, Political, and Ideological Activism in the Shi'i World, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Iraq;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Following the assassination of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr in February 1999, Iraqi government security services clashed with mourners and protesters in Baghdad and southern cities. The regime reestablished order within days. A month later, however, Sadrists attempted to launch coordinated uprisings in several cities in an effort to topple the Ba‘ath Party. This failed uprising was followed by a fierce crackdown on the Shiite clergy, a systematic dismantling of Sadrist networks, and a reorganization of Ba‘ath leadership in the South. Sadrists were forced underground, only to suddenly and (to some, surprisingly) reappear after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

This paper examines these little-known uprisings from the perspectives of rebels, Iraqi civilians, and the regime. The author conducted field work in Iraq and interviewed witnesses to the uprisings and Sadrist clerics who planned and participated in them. The paper also examines regime documents from this period available in the archives of the Regional Command of the Ba‘ath Party and other Iraqi government agencies that now are housed at the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University. Finally, the paper looks at available U.S. government documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act Requests and the few secondary sources in English and Arabic on these events.

The paper explores the extent to which the regime prepared for protests following the assassination as well as how surprised officials were by the coordinated revolt in March. Regime documents shed light on the extent to which Sadrists have embellished the events of 1999 to justify their claims to post-Saddam power and reparations. The paper explains how the uprisings and subsequent crackdown contributed to post-2003 divisions among Sadrists, animosity between Sadrists and Shiite groups in exile at the time (particularly SCIRI/Badr), and the influence of clerics who survived the Baath period, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. It also speaks to ongoing debates about state power and the fragility of the Ba‘ath regime in the late 1990s and, more generally, how authoritarian governments monitor and respond to demonstrations and forms of revolt.