© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr delivers a sermon to worshipers at the Kufa mosque near Najaf, Iraq November 4, 2022 REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani/File Photo
By Ahmed Rasheed
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shi’ite Muslim cleric who dominated Iraqi politics for two decades, appeared isolated after a move to withdraw from official politics encouraged opponents to be elected. Iran backs him and raises the possibility of new factions. outbreak.
Iran, which already controls dozens of heavily armed Shi’ite militias in its oil-producing neighbour, may now have the opportunity to expand its influence over the Iraqi government, a worst case scenario for the United States and its allies.
Although Sadr won a parliamentary majority in the 2021 elections, he chose to withdraw in August after a failed year-long attempt to form a cabinet without a close rival to Iran.
Sadr’s decision may have driven away some of the crowds of supporters who helped propel him into the heart of Iraqi politics in the chaotic aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled the country. longtime dictator, Saddam Hussein.
Ali al-Iqabi, a Sadrist activist, said: “Some followers of his famous Sayed Moqtada have started complaining that withdrawing from politics and parliament will open a wide road. more open to corrupt parties to control the government.”
“Unfortunately, that has happened now,” he told Reuters.
New Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani has reshuffled several top security posts and appointed officials close to Iran-backed parties, including the key position of chief of military intelligence, four security official told Reuters.
This position was previously held by a pro-Western official.
But Sudani privately rejected calls by Sadr’s opponents to fire pro-Sadr government officials, fearing it would push Iraq back into violence, said five Shi’ite lawmakers. and two senior Sadrist officials said.
This account was corroborated by four Shi’ite lawmakers who attended meetings between Sudanese and Shi’ite politicians on October 20 and December 11.
Sadr’s followers took to the streets after he retired from politics, and the country quickly descended into a civil war between Shi’ite factions until the protests were suspended.
“Sudani is struggling not to awaken the dragon,” said a Shi’ite government official who attends weekly cabinet meetings.
Sudani’s office did not respond to a request for comment on his appointments or his refusal to act against officials deemed to have ties to Sadr.
Sadr, who has gone out of his way to make his supporters and opponents fearful, once withdrew from politics before returning. Some people close to the shrewd cleric argue that the withdrawal is temporary.
“As soon as there are signs of a new election, Sadr will register,” one of those close to him told Reuters.
Sadr, who has closed several of his offices since withdrawing from politics, could not be reached for comment.
A cleric’s representative in the city of Kerbala said: “Sadr is closely monitoring political developments and the activities of the Sudani government, which he (Sadr) believes will not last long.”
A 2022 survey by British consultancy Chatham House found that Sadr supporters were more likely to vote than other groups.
However, besides losing some support on the street, his hand may now be weak and he is reluctant to show more pragmatism in forming a government with who is backed by Tehran, which some see as an ally in the fight against Islamic State.
Sadr’s inability to form such a government and the collapse of his coalition in the face of pushback from Iran and its allies in Iraq affected Moqtada’s political position and forced him to and his movement has to withdraw,” the Baghdad-based analyst said. Jasim al-Bahadli.
Sadr supporters, former legislators and analysts say that for the first time since 2005, Sadr does not have a clearly defined political role, making him the weakest since taking office. Iraqi politicians.
In August, Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri, a religious scholar in Iran who was anointed by Sadr’s father as a spiritual adviser, angered Sadr’s supporters by saying that Sadr had divided the Shi’ ITE.
Sadr officials, pro-Sadr Shi’ite clerics and religious sources in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf told Reuters they believe Tehran is behind the claim.
Haeri told Sadr followers to seek future guidance on religious matters from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a scholar who is the Supreme Leader of Iran.
Sadr himself also asked Haeri to speak up under pressure without naming who was at fault. Sadr wrote on Twitter: “I don’t believe he did this on his own.
Ghazi Faisal, chair of the think tank at the Center for Strategic Studies in Iraq, said Haeri had given “immediate impetus to Iran’s efforts to consolidate the power of its allies in Iraqi politics.”
When asked for comment by Reuters, a representative for Haeri said the scholar does not comment on politics.
Many Shi’ite Iraqis still consider Sadr a hero of the oppressed. He inherited much of his early legitimacy from his father, a respected cleric who was assassinated by agents of Saddam Hussein, before building his own power base and leading hundreds of thousands of followers in protests. protests against everything from corruption to inflation.
Human rights groups accuse Sadr militias of kidnapping and killing Sunnis at the height of Iraq’s civil war. Sadr says his fighters are hunting Sunni insurgents, not civilians.