Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sadr Threatening Protests Again In Iraq

At the beginning of 2011, Iraq was swept by a wave of popular protests imitating those in other Arab countries. Moqtada al-Sadr originally attempted to assert his leadership over them. When that failed, he told his supporters not to participate, and that he would give the government 6 months to improve or face the Sadrists’ wrath. With that time period now up, Sadr has issued a new call for demonstrations. The question now is whether he will follow through with his threat or not.  
Moqtada al-Sadr (Al Rafidayn)
On August 26, 2011, Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement calling for new demonstrations over the lack of services in Iraq. Sadr originally gave the government 6 months to improve its performance back in February, and that deadline finally expired. Sadr said that the protests would begin as soon as Ramadan was over. A member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law list immediately condemned Sadr’s call, saying that other political parties and even foreign countries would exploit it. Maliki’s main rival, the Iraqi National Movement said that it would support the Sadrists’ decision. A National Movement lawmaker told the press that any new assemblies could be used in its battle with State of Law over control of the country. Perhaps not wanting to be caught up in this conflict, a Sadrist parliamentarian later said that the movement had not actually called for any new protests, just that it supported the right of the people to hold them. Maliki and the National Movement have been arguing over forming the government since national elections were held back in March 2010. As part of that on-going debate, the two parties use any major issue that comes up in the country to attack each other. So far, the Sadrists have been one of the main supporters of the prime minister, but has also occasionally criticized him. Pushing for new demonstrations may be one of its latest attempts to carve out some political space of its own.

People in Iraq originally began assembling in January over the government’s inability to provide basic services like jobs, electricity, etc. By February, Sadr was trying to take advantage of the situation by calling for his own demonstrations. He threatened to bring out one million of his supporters. Sadrist lawmakers also began complaining about the use of force used against protesters. The movement then changed tact by conducting a referendum on what people wanted from the government. It said it would not hold any protests until that questionnaire was completed. People kept on hitting the streets however, and when a national Day of Rage was called for on February 25, the Sadrists told their followers not to participate. Instead, the Trend said that it would give the government six months to improve. Sadr draws most of his support from the Iraqi street. When protests broke out then, he was quick to try to exploit them. When that failed, he tried to portray himself as still standing with the people, while backing off taking any real action. If he had pushed the issue it might have backfired anyway, as the Sadr movement is in control of some of the main service ministries such as Public Works, Water, Housing, and Planning. Criticism of Maliki and the government could have quickly been focused upon Sadr.

Protests in Iraq continue to this day, they are just much smaller and limited than before. If Sadr wanted to, he could bring out thousands into the streets as he has done before in much orchestrated public marches. That could put huge pressure on Maliki since the government is incapable of improving any services due to institutional limitations such as corruption, the lack of capacity, planning, and funding. It’s yet to be seen whether Sadr is actually going to carry through with his call or whether it’s all just rhetoric. Not only that, but when pushed in the recent past, Sadr has backed down from taking any action that might threaten Maliki’s hold on power. It will ultimately be up to Sadr to decide whether he wants to finally challenge the prime minister or stay a supporting character.


Alkadiri, Raad, “Rage Comes to Baghdad,” Foreign Affairs, 3/3/11

Alsumaria, “Al Iraqiya List MP: More than 180 MPs ready to outrun leaders of their blocs,” 9/2/11
- “Najaf Residents reluctant about Sadr protests,” 2/15/11
- “Al Sadr to conduct referendum in Iraq,” 2/23/11

Arraf, Jane, “Iraq attempts to defuse huge protest planned for Friday,” Christian Science Monitor, 2/23/11

Brosk, Raman, “Sadrists launch referendum on public services across Iraq,” AK News, 2/28/11

Fantappie, Maria, “IRAQ: The Sadrists’ golden opportunity,” Babylon & Beyond, Los Angeles Times, 4/1/11

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

Al-Kadhimi, Bahaa, “Sadrists referendum in Basra: vast majority supports demonstrations,” AK News, 3/17/11

Najm, Hayder, “government and clerics disrupt the day of dignity,” Niqash, 3/9/11

Al Nas Paper, “Maliki confirms the existence of internal and external parties will use demonstrations to topple the government,” 8/28/11

National Iraqi News Agency, “MP : The Sadrist trend authorize the people to demonstrate or not,” 9/3/11
- “Sadr calls for demonstrations of millions after Eid holyday because the six-month ultimatum given to the government has ended,” 8/26/11

Al-Rafidayn, Al Arab online, Alsumaria TV, “Al-Sadr Calls On Al-Maliki to Meet Demonstrators’ Demands, Threatens Action,” MEMRI Blog, 3/1/11

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


chris said...

As unsettled as Iraq is at this time, does Sadr really think protests will resolve the situation?

Joel Wing said...

Sadr would not be using protests to solve anything. Rather they are to show off his political power because he's the only leader that can call out that many people. If he were to have protests over services they would just be to pressure Maliki into giving Sadr concessions such as a greater say in the government.