Since the results of the 2013 provincial elections were announced, the Sadr Trend has increased its rhetoric against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Sadrists have played this double game before attacking the premier off and on, while taking no substantive measures against him, and holding onto the most ministries within the government. Now it appears the party is increasing its criticism in preparation for the 2014 national vote. Moqtada al-Sadr has always aspired to become the preeminent Shiite leader in Iraq, and with his showing in the 2013 balloting, and the deteriorating security situation he may feel like he has a real chance to surpass Maliki and his State of Law list.
The 2013 governorate level elections inspired the Sadr List to challenge Premier Maliki one more time. The Sadrists gained seven seats in the vote going from 41 to 47 seats across 14 provinces. More importantly, they worked with other parties such as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) to shut the premier’s State of Law out of power in places like Baghdad and Basra. That combined with the wave of violence that has swept the country recently has opened cracks in Maliki’s armor, which the Sadrists are now attempting to exploit.
Sadrist lawmaker Shirifi has been one of the premier’s staunchest critics in the last few weeks (AIN)
The result is that every week a Sadr politician issues some type of statement criticizing the premier’s rule. On August 6, lawmaker Hussein al-Shirifi told the press that Maliki should not run again blaming him for the country’s poverty, unemployment, corruption, and lack of security. Two days later Shirifi claimed that the prime minister had allowed Baathists to infiltrate the security forces, and that they were now running the government. Then he condemned State of Law parliamentarian Izzat Shabandar for speaking up against the Najaf clergy. August 9, member of parliament (MP) Awad Awadi said that the latest security operation the Revenge of the Martyrs was launched too late, followed up by Shirifi accusing State of Law of spreading sectarianism in the country. On August 11, MP Hussein Mansouri said that families should sue Maliki for the violence surrounding the Al Qaeda in Iraq raid upon the Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons in Baghdad, and even claimed that the prime minister was somehow behind the operation. Two days later, lawmaker Iqbal Ghurabi stated that the Sadrists put Maliki in office, and therefore did not need to listen to his orders or take his advice. Sadrists then criticized the prime minister for always working alone instead of cooperating with his allies. On August 18, Mansouri told Maliki that he should resign if he cared about the Iraqi people since he was failing to run the country. Then on August 20, Shirifi noted that parliament had passed a law limiting the prime minister to only two terms, which meant Maliki could not run again next year, and that could not be changed, while Ghurabi claimed that Maliki’s Dawa Party was aligning with Washington to keep him in power even if that meant bringing back the occupation of the country. This relentless wave of attacks will likely be the norm for the next several months until the 2014 elections. This follows previous criticisms and threats by Sadr where he pulled his ministers out of the cabinet earlier this year, flirted with the Anbar protests in January, and considered a no confidence vote against Maliki in the summer of 2012. What all these events share in common is that they were all for show. Sadr has taken no real action against the premier even though he could seriously weaken the government if he wanted to. Rather his strategy has been to try to distance himself from Maliki publicly, and paint his rule in the worst possible manner, while maintaining ministries, and keeping the prime minister in office. Sadr basically wants to have his cake and eat it too.
Moqtada al-Sadr may finally be gaining enough confidence to take on Maliki head on. In the past, Sadr has attacked the prime minister to raise his status with the public, while working behind the scenes to gain concessions for a larger role in the government. Now, after the 2013 elections, the Sadrists worked with other parties to push the State of Law out of a few very important provincial governments. The level and intensity of rhetoric against the premier has increased since then as well. The problem with the movement is that it has taken similar steps before only to fall in line behind Maliki after a short period. Sadr definitely would like to surpass Maliki, and obtain the premiership, but right now it appears that the latest wave of criticism is just part of the back and forth that the two sides have taken part in before.
AIN, “Baathists control governance in Iraq again, says Sadrist MP,” 8/8/13
- “Sadr bloc warns Maliki from nominating for 3rd term,” 8/6/13
- “Sadrist MP accuses DIP of allying with Washington to keep Maliki’s post,” 8/21/13
- “Sadrist MP accuses SLC of adopting sectarian political tendency,” 8/10/13
- “Sadrist MP calls violence victims’ families to sue Maliki,” 8/11/13
- “Sadrist MP describes recent security operation as “late procedure,”” 8/9/13
- “Sadrist MP: Maliki to resign his post, if he cares about citizens’ suffering,” 8/18/13
- “Sadrist MP: Parliament limits PM’s terms to 2,” 8/20/13
- “Sadrist MP: Sadr Trend rejects Maliki’s advices,” 8/13/13
- “Sadrist MP: Statements against Religious Authority to belittle Muslims’ feelings,” 8/8/13
Al-Tamimi, Iyad, “Supreme Council and the Liberals the National Alliance: Maliki boycotted our meeting and Jaafari failed in management,” Al-Mada, 8/14/13