What is Muqtada al-Sadr’s objective? A prominent religious and political figure, he has a considerable ability to surprise with his changes of direction. He leads one of the most powerful militias in the country, Saraya as-Salam (Peace Brigades), but also heads a nationalist political movement that became the leading force in parliament after elections in 2018 and 2021.
He’s the son of the revered cleric Mohammad Sadek al-Sadr, who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s regime in Najaf in 1999. He rejects both Iranian and US influence, but happily formed an alliance with Iraqi communists. In August 2022, when apparently at the height of his power, he caused widespread surprise by ordering his 73 members of parliament to resign and announcing his own withdrawal from politics.
This decision triggered clashes between his supporters and the regular army in Baghdad, leaving dozens dead and hundreds injured. On 14 April he announced the suspension of most of his movement’s activities ‘for at least a year’. Is this a genuine withdrawal or political manoeuvring?
Each of Sadr’s announcements has shown that the absence of his movement creates a vacuum and leads to chaos, which forces the government and his rivals in the Shia camp into concessions, ultimately strengthening his influence on Iraqi politics.
It’s no coincidence that it was Sadr supporters who set fire to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad on 20 July in protest against the Quran-burning in Stockholm. Although the Iraqi authorities condemned the attack, they soon ordered the Swedish ambassador’s expulsion, preventing Sadr from claiming to be the sole defender of Islam.
https://mondediplo.com/2023/10/05iraq-box The enigma of Muqtada al-Sadr, by Akram Belkaïd (Le Monde diplomatique