Who is Muqtada Al Sadr, the Shiite cleric on the way to winning the legislative elections in Iraq?



In Iraq, a coalition of parties led by Muqtada Al Sadr, known as the Sadrist bloc, is poised to play the kingmaker role, having organized a massive base of supporters to secure more than 70 seats on the Council of Representatives of Iraq. 329 members.

As in the last national elections in 2018, Al Sadr appears to have enjoyed very low turnout, Iraq’s High Independent Electoral Commission said.

Is Al Sadr opposed to the United States?

Mr. Al Sadr’s track record and policies place him among the favorites of those who prioritize Iraq’s sovereignty and independence over Iranian intervention and US involvement in it. the country.

After Saddam’s fall in 2003, following the US-led invasion, Mr. Al Sadr said on CBS ‘ 60 minutes: “The little snake is gone and the big snake has come”, in reference to the United States.

The Sadrist movement created by his father and stepfather – both killed by Saddam’s regime – has distinguished itself from other Shiite religious movements by focusing on helping poorer Iraqis, rather than spending time to make judgments on clerical questions.

This earned them many staunch supporters during Saddam Hussein’s reign before 2003, when the Iraqi economy collapsed under international sanctions.

But there were few Sadrist celebrations after Saddam’s fall. As staunch Islamists, they viewed the United States and its Western allies as trying to transform Iraqi society in a way that contradicted their unique doctrine of socialism and religious piety.

Millions of Iraqis, mostly poor Shia farmers in southern Iraq and internally displaced Shiites who fled to slums during the chaotic uprisings against Saddam in the 1990s, fervently followed orders. of Mr. Al Sadr to resist what he called the occupation.

In return, his movement supported their impoverished families, while Sadr loyalists attacked the United States and other international forces, including the British military.

The movement ultimately forced the British military to withdraw from the oil-rich city of Basra in 2007.

It was a step too far for his great rival, then Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, who ordered the Iraqi army to retake the city. Mr. Al Sadr then fled to Iran for several years, before returning to Iraq promising to play the role of a political leader rather than a warlord.

Growing political power soon followed.

During the US-led occupation, Mr. Al Sadr’s militia, the Jaish Al Mahdi, offered fierce resistance to foreign forces and were widely accused of kidnapping and mass murdering thousands of civilians, mostly Sunnis accused of links with the Baath Party.

Many victims were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, while the Shiites who spoke out against his militia were also threatened or killed.

The most notorious episode of this period was the takeover of the health ministry by Jaish Al Mahdi in 2006. Staff were removed from their posts in favor of Sadr supporters, who lacked qualifications. Iraqi health services quickly declined and, even worse, supporters of Jaish Al Mahdi have been accused of killing Sunnis and other rivals in hospital wards.

The bloodshed was bought for the most part under control in 2007, when US forces arrested Deputy Health Minister Hakim Zamili, who is believed to be behind most of the violence.

But Mr. Zamili remains in government as Mr. Al Sadr’s key supporter, and Mr. Al Sadr’s supporters are said to still dominate the health ministry and many positions in key government departments.

Aware of the growing controversy surrounding his movement, Mr. Al Sadr has attempted in recent years to portray himself as non-sectarian and supporting official government forces, rather than the plethora of militias in Iraq.

But he never completely cut ties with paramilitary groups. It is, however, unlikely that Mr. Al Sadr will spark a new conflict. He said US forces should be withdrawn from Iraq by political agreement and, only if they refuse to leave, armed force could be an option.

Mr. Al Sadr has also forged links with various Sunni leaders since the sectarian violence that rocked the country between 2005 and 2009.

On Monday, he renewed his welcome to all embassies in Iraq as long as they stay away from Iraq’s internal affairs and political processes.

“Now that he has sent this message to the United States, it is interesting to see how he is going to try to convince the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] not to work to overthrow the government he has chosen, “said Hamdi Malik, associate member of the Washington Institute.

In his speech, Al Sadr also stabbed self-proclaimed Iran-backed “resistance” militias.

“Even if those who claim resistance or whatever, it is time for the people to live in peace, without occupation, without terrorism, without militias and without kidnapping,” he said in the televised speech.

Mr. Malik said Mr. Al Sadr’s speech emphasized the “Iraqi character” of his bloc.

“He called his bloc bigger and described it as ‘an Iraqi bloc, neither East nor West’, in reference to Iran and the United States,” Malik said.

Mr. Al Sadr’s party claimed victory in the national elections and his supporters celebrated Monday night in the streets of Baghdad, despite the counting underway.

“Today is the day of the people’s victory against occupation, normalization, militias, poverty and slavery,” Al Sadr said, apparently referring to the normalization of ties with Israel.

One of Mr. Al Sadr’s other controversial political positions is his stance towards Syria, calling for the resignation of President Bashar Al Assad in 2017, despite the support of other Shiite groups for Mr. Assad.

Update: October 12, 2021, 8:37 a.m.


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