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The Mystery Of Musa Al-Sadr

by Franz Schurmann

Syria Hawk Given A Top White House Post

(PNS) -- In Latin America but also in the Middle East there are thousands of "the disappeared" who still have not been identified as dead or alive. But the Middle East has one celebrity "disappeared" who is particularly striking. For one thing, he was on the verge of becoming a major player in Middle Eastern politics before he vanished. And even as one of his clan, Muqtada al-Sadr, is confronting Americans in Baghdad's Sadr-City, the Lebanese branch of the family keeps demanding from the world powers that they furnish an explanation of Musa al-Sadr's fate from the time he disappeared on August 31, 1978.

It's unlikely that Imam Musa al-Sadr is alive. It's likely that his ambition to become peacemaker in the Levant -- the lands bordering the eastern shores of the Mediterranean -- was the reason for his downfall. And it's highly unlikely that the great powers involved will ever reveal their secrets about him. Nevertheless, many people still hope that someday he will re-appear, alive or dead.

Musa al-Sadr was born to an Iranian clerical family that included many famous Shiite leaders. One was the Ayatollah Baqir al-Sadr, who was executed by the Saddam Hussein regime on April 9, 1980, for his anti-Baathist activity. Baqir's son, Muqtada al-Sadr, recently formed the "Army of the Mahdi (Guide)" in Iraq. The Sadrs were well known in Shiite circles from Indonesia to Africa, and many settled down in Lebanon and Iraq. Over time the family produced many political activists. When the Lebanese bloody civil war (1975-1990) broke out, Musa al-Sadr began to organize Lebanon's Shiite majority of Lebanon's total population that hitherto had been politically inert.

The organization that emerged from Musa Sadr's efforts was called Aml (Hope). It quickly turned into a militia that showed Shiites could fight. A major figure was Nabih Barri. a Shiite who spent his early years in Dearborn, Michigan, and then, after the Lebanon civil war ended, gained the position of the Speaker of the Assembly in Lebanon. When Berri saw how black people in the United States were able to gain their civil rights in America, the Shiites became bolder and willing to fight for their rights.

They became the main opposition against two enemies, Lebanon's Maronite Christians and the Lebanese Druzes, whose co-religionists in Israel willingly served in the Israeli Army. However, now the Hizbollah (Party of God) has superseded Aml. This may be why the Aml faithful, who didn't go over to Hizbollah want a full explanation of how their charismatic leader could have vanished into thin air.

Musa al-Sadr wanted to bring all the major religious groups in Lebanon together and put an end to the civil war before it became out of control. To this end he even participated in Roman Catholic Maronite masses.

In its issue of Sept. 24 the Lebanese daily Al-Hayat (Life) repeats the known facts of Musa al-Sadr's disappearance. He and two aides flew directly from Beirut to Tripoli in Libya. Al-Hayat then writes that Musa al-Sadr and his two aides went on to Rome. But the Italian authorities still say a quarter of a century later that they had checked out the entire airport and all hotels and could not find the three men.

Al-Hayat also notes that some concerned people believe the three are alive and locked up for life in a Libyan prison. In 1999, his sister said in public that her brother got into a quarrel with Mo'amer Qadhafi and that all three men are alive in a Libyan prison. But, other than pique over a quarrel, what would have been Libyan leader Mo'amer Qadhafi's more substantial motive? Libya has few interests in Lebanon but many clients in Italy, which pumps Libyan oil into Italian tankers. Libya also has few, if any, interests in Lebanon.

But the article did provide some current information on the mystery. Seif-ul-Islam Qadhafi (Sword of Islam), the son of Mo'amer, has teamed up with the Iranian Muhammad Ali Abti, a close adviser to Iran's reformist President Khatami. Both are making the rounds in Paris trying to establish, with concrete details, what happened on August 31, 1978.

Musa al-Sadr flew from Beirut to Libyan Tripoli on August 27 and was last seen in public on August 31 as he left his hotel to attend a meeting with Libyan President Mo'amar Qadhafi. In fact one of Musa's aides was scheduled to give a talk in early September.

Perhaps an in-depth analysis of the Al-Hayat piece can give a hint of what happened on August 31, 1978. The twosome takes the general position that the great powers have to come to terms with the so-called rogue countries, with neither party accusing the other of evil doings. This is called the "Berlin Accords," under which only compensations are negotiated, and nothing else.

Seif-ul-Islam Qadhafi, in particular, uses the shooting down of the PanAm plane over the Scotland village of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, to illustrate the Berlin Accords model. The United States, after first blaming Palestinian terrorists, then decided that Libya was to blame. But, not long after the new century began, the United States accepted the Berlin accords with some reservations; mainly that some people had to pay dearly for their crimes. But soon it became clear that the Berlin Accords triumphed over the Hague's criminal courts.

Having explained the new approach, Seif-ul-Islam Qadhafi concludes by saying the only way to resolve the Musa al-Sadr disappearance is for the two governments, Libyan and Lebanese, to reach a financial agreement. Though unlikely, it's even possible Musa al-Sadr's sister might yet get to see her brother alive. And if not, at least his bones can rest in Aml's soil.

If Musa al-Sadr had high visions of peace in Lebanon and the Levant then maybe the sister was right. The pique of a tyrant led to life in prison or quick death. But the tyrant was sitting on a vast sea of crude oil.

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Albion Monitor October 15, 2004 (

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