Since March 2008 Moqtada al-Sadr has faced a series of government crackdowns and mass arrests of his followers. His top officials are being assassinated by rival Shiites. His often unclear and contradictory leadership style reported on earlier has also cost him support. Sadr’s new plan is to try to focus upon politics, specifically the negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq for a security agreement. Since May, Sadr has been calling for protests against the negotiations every week after prayers. He also said that any deal needs to be put before the public for a national referendum. This follows Sadr’s long-time anti-American stance. There have been arguments about just how many people show up, whether it is in the hundreds or thousands, but they have been continuing. The problem is that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s increasing calls for a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal are undermining Sadr’s position. This is just another sign that it will be an uphill battle for Sadr to keep his movement together.
Shiites no longer need the protection of the Mahdi Army anymore with the end of the sectarian war. The government is intent on breaking Sadr’s hold on neighborhoods throughout southern and central Iraq. Maliki is also out to undercut the Sadrists’ opposition to the United States with his hard-line stance in negotiations with Washington. This is all part of the inter-Shiite battle for power before the upcoming provincial elections. Sadr use to be one of the most powerful Shiite leaders in the country, who was expected to gain power after the voting, but now he is quickly losing support. Maliki is now trying to mold himself into the nationalist leader of the country, a position Sadr tried to stake himself as. After securing several cities in Iraq, he now needs to build up his own base and rebuild his Dawa party that recently split in two. So far, he has outplayed Sadr in both the military, and political fields, but what happens in the elections is still up for grabs.
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