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)|
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.
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