Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sadr Returns To Iraq And Tries To Appropriate The Protests

On February 23, 2011 Moqtada al-Sadr returned to Iraq after leaving on January 20. His immediate concern upon arriving in Najaf appeared to be appropriating control of the on-going protests in Iraq.

On the day that Sadr came back to Iraq, his movement issued a statement saying that people should not join the planned “Day of Rage” protest on February 25. Instead, the Sadr Trend said that it would conduct a survey across the country on February 28 to see what services they wanted. If those were not met by the government it would hold its own protest in six months. That, along with a announcement by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s office that the demonstration could get out of hand and be exploited by others, will probably greatly reduce the Shiite participation in the march.

Sadrist parliamentarian Maha al-Dori talking with demonstrators in Baghdad, 2/23/11 (AP)
Earlier, the Sadrists had been trying to commandeer and organize some of the protests going on in Baghdad and southern Iraq. On February 10 and 16 there were marches in Sadr City, Baghdad over services, unemployment, and corruption, with clerics joining in the latter one. On February 19, Sadrist lawmakers said that they would withdraw from parliament if there wasn’t an investigation into the shooting of demonstrators in Kut, Wasit three days earlier that left one dead. The Sadrists said that the constitution guaranteed the right to peacefully assemble, and that shooting at crowds was unjustified. Finally, on February 15, Sadr himself made a call for Iraqis to hold demonstrations over the lack of services. 

The Sadr movement is obviously trying to take advantage of the situation going on within the country. It likes to portray itself as a popular social and religious group, in touch with the common Iraqi. It would be abrogating its claim to power if it did not try to stand with the people demonstrating. At the same time, the Sadrists have always had a hard time balancing their image of being in touch with the street with trying to be a legitimate political party. The Sadrists for example, want people to demonstrate against the lack of services, but now control six ministries such as Planning and Public Works that are in charge of providing them. It’s also an open question as to how much influence Sadr can garner with the masses currently protesting. This may turn out to be a short-term gamble that has long-term repercussions for the Trend.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Demonstrators in Iraq demand jobs and electricity,” 2/16/11
- “Radical Shiite cleric Sadr ‘back in Iraq,’” 2/23/11

Alsumaria, “Iraqis anger spelled out in street protests,” 2/11/11
- “Najaf Residents reluctant about Sadr protests,” 2/15/11
- “Al Sadr to conduct referendum in Iraq,” 2/23/11

Al-Haffar, Hasson, “Sadrist Current threaten to withdraw from parliament over Kut protest clashes,” AK News, 2/19/11

Schmidt, Michael and Ghazi, Yasir, “Iraq’s Top Shiite Leaders Urge Delay or Protests,” New York Times, 2/23/11

2 comments:

AndrewSshi said...

I'm curious as to how long Sadr stays around this time. He can't be *that* worried that he'll get the Imam Khoei treatment from rivals, can he?

Joel Wing said...

I would not be surprised if he went back and forth between Iraq and Iran for quite some time. You probably read the report that the reason why he left the last time was because of threats from the League of the Righteous. That came from a Saudi owned paper though and I would take that with a huge grain of salt. He probably has business to do in Iran and went back, and now he's returned to Iraq.