Moqtada al-Sadr is in the run-up to the by-elections in Iraq

In a short window this summer, Moqtada al-Sadr, a former US enemy and now one of Iraq’s most prominent politicians, left his party in parliamentary elections next month.

But in a show of political instability, the president of the largest parliament in the country reversed the decision two months later. Instead of leaving politics, he hopes to add two seats and nominate the next Prime Minister.

Sadr “has announced that we want the position of prime minister,” said Dhiaa al-Asadi, a senior member of Sadrist’s party, saying in a statement that he did not agree with parliament.

Sadr’s party, in recent years, has become the largest military force in Iraq and is determined to use the October elections to promote this growth. To Western lawmakers, who are concerned about Iran’s influence in Iraq, the man also said it was a threat to Iraq and that US journalists could be an interesting alternative for many Iranian groups.

“Relations between Sadr and the West have changed dramatically in the last few years,” said Lahib Higel, Iraq’s senior researcher at the Crisis Group. “Sadr is also seen as a racist and non-partisan candidate who is dependent on Iran.”

Demonstrating how the movement has changed, Sadrist working in Iraq has met with Western diplomats. “The goal of Sadrist’s party is to open up the world,” Asadi said. That should be in love, he added. “No country should have the right to interfere in Iraqi business.”

From the war to the parliament

In the early days of US rule in 2003, Sadr, the fourth son of a prominent Shia cleric in Iraq who was assassinated by former dictator Saddam Hussein, urged his supporters to lead a non-combatant army.

Its members are members of the Mahdi Armed Forces accused of Sunni atrocities in the civil war that ravaged Iraq following the US invasion. But over the past 10 years, Sadr has also established himself as a defender against the oppressed and has a large following among the working class in Shia Iraqis.

Sadr’s supporters carry placards with his image via Najaf, Iraq, last month © Ali Najafi / AFP via Getty Photos

In 2018 the Sadr-led coalition gained more seats than any other bloc in 329 parliament. A few other advertisers may like Sadr this time around. “Although [Sadrists] they will not write more than the 100 seats expected, “said Asadi,” and I think that number will increase. ”

Under the politics created after the ousting of Saddam Hussein, no single party has been able to achieve a majority and the opposition parties have shared power.

While Sadr did not take office in 2018, his powers grew stronger under Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who relied on Sadr to overthrow the power of many lawmakers living in Iran, some of whom are linked to the military.

Iraq has become a battlefield between Iran and the US, whose 2,500 troops are supporting Iraqi forces to oust Isis, who previously controlled territories. The foreign troops are often Shiite-linked Shia militias, much to the dismay of the US.

‘Is he really against Iran?’

In the early days of the Mahdi Army, Sadr was seen by many as a representative of Iran, but the existing relationship was shattered. Sadr is now making it clear that his opposition to foreign affairs in Iraq also includes Iran, which is good news for the western ears.

“It’s like, tell us more about Sadr, is he really against Iran, what is his attitude towards the US, and where is he working with him,” said Marsin Alshamary, a friend of Baghdad’s at Harvard Kennedy School.

“No one is really buying because they have no relationship with Iran, or that they will not move to the Iranian alliance,” Alshamary added. “But in the meantime. . . can point [pro-Iran militias] and look, they are the ones throwing rockets at the US embassy. . . We need to be actors, trustworthy people who are interested in Iraq. “

A Western diplomat said last year that Sadrists had “made a decision to reach the UK and the US”, recognizing that if he played a more significant role in government, alliance with Western countries would benefit. However, a spokesman for the US ambassador declined to comment on Sadrists. UK declined to comment.

The Israeli-American flags were burned in Basra, Iraq, by Sadr supporters in May this year

Israeli and American flags were set ablaze in Basra, Iraq, by Sadr supporters in May this year © Hussein Faleh / AFP via Getty Images

‘Part of the system’

Not everyone believes Sadr will win again. His unchanging nature and the corruption of his followers can lead voters to lose their votes. Higel said their withdrawal from well-known protests in southern and central Iraq in October 2019 may have been a setback.

When he appeared before 2018. . . much of the picture was broken ” [when he withdrew support]He also said. “It will be difficult for them to find the same seats or more.”

In any case, its power is clearly seen in the hands of its counterparts in much of Iraq, including health and energy services.

A survey published by Chatham House in June also revealed that Sadrist held a high-level, high-level public service shareholding among political parties. Sadrist also heads the office of Prime Minister.

Despite working under the radar, the Sadrists “have been as destructive as others who have ravaged Iraq through fraud and embezzlement”, according to Toby Dodge, a professor at the London School of Economics and co-author of Chatham House.

If so, the Sadrists’ rise reveals a change in Iraqi politics since the 2003 uprising, as formerly violent groups have been integrated into government. “Today’s Sadrist is no longer the Sadrist of 2004, their methods are different,” said Farhad Alaaldin, chairman of the Iraq Advisory Council.

Although they have identified themselves as outsiders, he said, “the group strongly believes that their survival should be in the state and in the private sector”.

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