Muqtada al-Sadr.. What does the kingmaker want in Iraq?
Following the end of the Iraqi elections that took place on October 10, 2021 and witnessed a low turnout, the leader of the “Sadr movement” in Iraq, “Muqtada al-Sadr” announced that his bloc had taken the highest number of seats in the Iraqi parliament (73 seats out of 329), to be The most prominent winners in those early elections called by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi in response to the demands of the demonstrations that raged in the Iraqi street in October 2019 and toppled the government of “Adel Abdul-Mahdi”. According to the latest developments, the Sadrist movement will to a large extent be able to control the choice of the name of the next prime minister, as he is the dominant player in the political scene today.
The history of the influential man from an ancient religious family, who enjoys millions of loyal followers who formed the largest Shiite movement in southern and central Iraq, tells us that his political career was highly volatile and always complex, as he supports revolutions and then turns against them, and enters into contradictory alliances that never loses his popularity. He promotes himself as the voice of vulnerable Shiites against the corruption of the ruling political elite. His representatives have not lost sight of senior ministerial positions since 2006, and while he calls for the disarmament of militias, he actually owns one of the largest and most important armed Shiite factions in Iraq, the “Saraya al-Salam”, and while he presents himself As a warrior of the Iranian presence, he sometimes sends his orders to his supporters from the Iranian city of Qom, and although he is a prominent cleric who ascended the ladder of religious leadership, he has not yet attained the status of a “Mujtahid” located at the bottom of the ladder leading to the title “Ayatollah”. According to the traditions of the Shiite sect.
— Muqtada al-Sayyid Muhammad al-Sadr (@Mu_AlSadr) October 12, 2021
Al-Sadr: Between politics and weapons
Among the cities and neighborhoods of the capital, Baghdad, Sadr City, known as the “city of the poor”, acquires great privacy, just like the family of the man who was named after him, the Shiite religious authority “Muhammad Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr”, who was assassinated in 1999. In addition, it is the city that It created the influence of his current son, Muqtada al-Sadr, for reasons related to the nature of the region inhabited by nearly two million Shiites, which pushed it to the forefront of the cities that formed military wings in post-occupation Iraq, most notably the “Mahdi Army”, which participated in the fight against the American invasion. for Iraq in 2003.
It is enough for a visitor to that city, which was prohibited from entering by US forces, to wander its streets and main roads connecting its neighborhoods to discover the overwhelming presence of Muqtada al-Sadr among the residents of the region, and the Shiite community in general, which still bears the legacy of his father’s leadership of the 1991 uprising against the Baath Party Iraqi during Saddam Hussein’s rule and his arrest on the trail. Only eight years later, al-Sadr, the father, was assassinated, and Iraq entered a second wave of armed uprisings in 1999 by Shiite factions demanding revenge, targeting the army, the police and the headquarters of the ruling party.
Since that date, Al-Sadr has presented himself as the legitimate heir to his father’s legacy of political reform and the fight against corruption. Following in his father’s footsteps, al-Sadr ascended the ladder of religious leadership, and succeeded his father in political positions, opening offices in his father’s name in Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Basra and other regions. After achieving immediate success, he established armed shadow groups that adopted the targeting of political figures and the bombing of government and intelligence agencies, and the hostility reached the headquarters of the “Baath Party”, which was not spared from sabotage and revenge. What is remarkable about the man’s career is that he was almost the only Shiite leader who never left Baghdad.
During his meetings with the media, and in his speeches, Al-Sadr paints an image of himself as a calm person who controls his emotions, and leads the dialogue in calm and smooth language, but this image does not agree with what those close to him convey about him being quick to anger and a little smiling. However, the most controversial picture about Al-Sadr was conveyed by US intelligence investigations by interrogating the second man in the Mahdi Army, “Qais Khazali” (and currently head of the Iraqi “Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq” Brigades), during his arrest in 2007. Khazali described his former boss as “having no Any principles, and he works only for personal gain, and does not care for the Iraqi people.” .
The early picture that Khazali drew of his former leader and subsequent archenemy, the Americans quickly benefited from in striking a deal with the man whose rise the American invasion contributed to, which later appeared in his conflicting statements and positions. After years spent by al-Sadr and his movement in armed action against the American forces and even against his political opponents, al-Sadr surprised his followers and demanded them to abolish armed manifestations in Basra and the rest of the Iraqi provinces. at that time.
In a few years, al-Sadr transformed from wanted to eliminate the background of accusing his supporters of killing “Abdul-Majid al-Khoei” (a Shiite leader who cooperated with the US government) to a free leader, and from a fighter against the American invasion, a raiser of arms and a threat to the Iraqi Governing Council, which was established by the United States after the fall of Saddam to a participant in the political process. During the parliamentary elections in Iraq in 2006, Muqtada al-Sadr supported his old rival, Nuri al-Maliki, as prime minister, and the Sadrist movement, after seizing a number of parliament seats, won ministerial portfolios in the new government. However, the truce between al-Sadr and al-Maliki quickly collapsed after the latter resumed his old war on the remainder of the Mahdi Army, as he led a failed campaign to disarm the militias affiliated with Muqtada al-Sadr, but in the end he was forced to bow to the most influential politician in Iraq in order to obtain his support in order to A second term, which al-Maliki actually obtained in the latter.
In 2010, Mesopotamia experienced a political stalemate after parliamentary elections that left the main factions in Iraq unable to form a government. Al-Sadr took advantage of his growing political stature, paving the way for a consensus process to support Nouri al-Maliki again as prime minister. In return, the Sadrists obtained a number of concessions from Maliki, including several positions in the new government. However, the poor performance of the prime minister’s government prompted al-Sadr to ally with the Shiite authority, “Ali al-Sistani,” and then the two parties led the 2014 campaign in order to prevent the renewal of the government of Nuri al-Maliki for a third term, and the Sadrist movement actually succeeded in mobilizing millions of its followers to vote for “Haidar.” Al-Abadi”, who was able to form the next government eventually.
Al-Sadr’s assumption of that central position in the political arena, and his actual sponsorship of the rise and fall of heads of government, coincided with the emergence of the Islamic State organization, which succeeded in swallowing a large area of Iraq and Syria in a short period, an opportunity that Al-Sadr used to establish a new militia joined by thousands of Shiites known as “Saraya” Peace”. Its members organized a military parade in 12 Iraqi provinces, carrying various types of light, medium and heavy weapons, which was explicit evidence of the Shiite leader’s heavy weight against the Iranian militias present in the country, most notably the Badr Corps militia, which is hostile to the Sadrist movement.
Later in the 2018 parliamentary elections, the Sadrist movement won the largest bloc in parliament with 52 seats, thus destroying the accounts of Tehran, which relied on forming a government with full Iranian loyalties headed by “Adel Abdul-Mahdi”, whose description came in a leaked document of Iranian intelligence published by the newspaper The British “New York Times” in 2019 as the Iranian government’s agent in Iraq. But the rise of the Sadrist movement turned the equation at home and abroad, after al-Sadr insisted on pushing independent candidates to occupy several key ministerial positions.
Muqtada al-Sadr’s influence continued to shape the features of the Iraqi political scene after he allied himself with Mustafa al-Kazemi, so that the latter could seize the prime ministership and thwart the Iranian-backed nomination of “Adnan al-Zarfi” to succeed “Abdul Mahdi” after the demonstrations calling for his departure. Al-Kazemi was able to exploit the card of his alliance with Al-Sadr against the followers of Iran inside Iraq, led by the Popular Mobilization factions, which have lost much of their influence in the past two years. The most prominent fruit of the relationship between Al-Kazemi and Al-Sadr was the passage of the new election law that Muqtada Al-Sadr supported and which resulted in him obtaining the highest percentage he had previously achieved in Parliament (73 seats). It is expected that the Sadrist movement will support the presence of “Al-Kazemi” for a second term at the head of the government.
Between Arab Nationalism and Shi’ism
Unlike the rest of the Shiite currents that maintained their political position, recent years have witnessed a radical change in al-Sadr’s strategy. After years of adopting the committed Shiite Islamic approach, cooperating with Iran and obtaining financial support from it for the Mahdi Army during the American invasion, Al-Sadr is now relatively far from Iran compared to the post-2003 years, and he is trying to liquidate the political role of its close followers, as well as seeking to disarm the loyal militias she has.
At the same time, al-Sadr is now adopting an Iraqi-Arab nationalist discourse in which he has moved a few steps away from the purely Shiite-Islamist tendency, and aims through it to extricate his country from the polarization camp now confined between Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States, and to seek to diversify his alliances in a way that makes his current more independent and central in the political arena. in Iraq, and gives Iraq relative weight in the regional equation, especially as it enjoys an oil base that allows it to play that role in theory, a vision that makes it on one page – until this moment – with Al-Kazemi. In addition, the parties that he included in his alliance, such as the Righteousness Party and the Iraqi Communist Party, brought together Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds under their banner, a diversity that transcends sectarian lines unprecedented in post-2003 Iraq, consistent with the “nationalist” discourse that Al-Kazemi also adopts.
However, what is interesting about Al-Sadr’s biography is that his political history is replete with contradictions that have always caused the expansion of his circle of enemies to the same extent as the circle of his followers. During the demonstrations that erupted in Iraq in late 2019 and led to the toppling of the government of Adel Abdul-Mahdi, al-Sadr directed his supporters against Iran from the Iranian city of Qom itself, paradoxically, and announced the formation of what was known at the time as the “blue hats” of the military wing of the Sadrist movement to protect the sit-in squares. However, he quickly turned against the demonstrators and called for an end to the protests, which were seen as a revolution against the Iranian-backed Shiite parties and factions. In the end, a meeting was held that brought al-Sadr together with Iranian officials, and it was a sufficient reason to turn against the street protests after promises that al-Sadr had greater powers to form the new Iraqi government, and then the street later accused him of betraying the revolutionaries.
Although Muqtada al-Sadr does not hide his total rejection of the American presence in Iraq, the intensity of his attack on Washington has recently eased after his political alliance with Al-Kazemi, who pursues a pragmatic policy and is considered close to the United States, which also has an interest in creating a distance between Tehran and Baghdad. Although al-Sadr’s openness to alliances that theoretically contradict his ideology seemed to include rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, al-Sadr’s visit to the kingdom in 2017 and his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman did not result in noticeable progress, and Saudi Arabia quickly expressed its annoyance with the friendship that combines Al-Sadr, the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah, “Hassan Nasrallah”, in addition to Al-Sadr’s attack on Saudi Arabia later because of the Yemen war.
But despite everything, al-Sadr in the end achieved the largest electoral victory known to the current he leads since 2003, and inflicted a great loss on the rival Shiite camp, wholly loyal to Iran, which will allow him to strengthen his position as a king-maker, and continue to shape government policies through his alliance with Al-Kazemi. At a time when the role of the United States is receding, and the course of politics in the region is changing between the Gulf, Iran, the Syrian crisis and the Turkish role, it seems that Al-Sadr still has many visions for Iraq that will not be all satisfactory to a particular ally, as some of them are annoying to Riyadh and others to Tehran, Certainly most of them are annoying to the United States. However, the man is proceeding with unprecedented confidence and heaviness in consolidating his power, and the coming days will tell us whether his leadership of the helm of Iraqi politics will succeed, and whether the regional circumstances surrounding him will allow the rise of the “new national Iraq” project, which is perhaps the first since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.