Saddam didn't hide what he thought about them either. At one point, he called them "Persians" in other words, traitors and his choice of insult was very revealing. Like Saddam, most Iraqi Sunnis view Sadr as all but a paid-up Iranian agent, and his militia, the Mahdi Army, as an Iranian creation.The Sunnis are convinced that one day, given the opportunity, Sadr will hand Iraq over to Iran. For all the shock Iraq's Sunnis felt on hearing Sadr's name shouted at Saddam's execution, Iranian diplomats might as well have been in attendance.
Just as consequential, for Sunnis and anyone else who knows Iraqi history, Saddam's executioners shouted the name of Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Muqtada's father-in-law. Ayatollah Sadr, whom Saddam executed in 1980, is perhaps as responsible as Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini for modern, resurgent Shi'a Islam. Sadr founded the Da'wa Party, a violent, secretive organization committed to the creation of an Iraqi Shi'a Islamic republic and today a political party that counts none other than Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a member.
In 1979, Sadr and the Da'wa took the side of the Iranian revolution, sparking demonstrations and unrest across Iraq. After Sadr's Da'wa attempted to assassinate Hussein's longtime foreign minister Tariq Aziz on April 1, 1980, Saddam, in fairly quick succession, executed Sadr and invaded Iran. Saddam was convinced that unless he pre-empted Sadr in other words, Iran he would end up on the gallows. Two years later, in Dujail, the Da'wa did try to assassinate Saddam. Saddam's brutal retribution against Dujail is what got him hanged last Saturday.
The West had its own bloody experience with Sadr's Da'wa. In December 1983, Da'wa attacked the American and French embassies in Kuwait. The Da'wa was the core around which Iran created Lebanon's Hizballah, another violent Shi'a group that went on to kidnap scores of foreigners and hijack half a dozen airplanes during the '80s long before it also became a political player in Lebanon.
Only time will tell us what Sadr intends do with Iraq if he ever does take over. But the Sunnis today will tell you they don't need to wait. On Saturday, they saw all the evidence they needed: the symbolism of executing Saddam on the Muslim High Holiday of Id al-Adha as a gift to the Shi'a, and and the decision of Maliki to get special approval from Iraq's senior Shi'a clerics, the "marja'iya," to carry out the execution on that day.
No one is ever going to take a poll, but it's safe to say that most Sunnis fear that Ayatollah Sadr's dream of an Iraqi Shi'a Islamic republic has already come true.
Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is the author of See No Evil and, most recently, the novel Blow the House Down.