In February 2014 Moqtada al-Sadr suddenly announced his retirement from politics. He claimed that he wanted to protect his family’s name, and was upset with the state of Iraq’s government. He then went on a blistering attack of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a speech meant to elaborate on his reasons for bowing out. Like his previous retirement in August 2013, this appears to be a calculated move by Sadr to rally his forces. This is timed just before national elections scheduled for April where the Sadrists believe they can not only gain more seats, but pose a serious challenge to a third term for Maliki.
February 15, Sadr issued a notice on his website that he was done with politics. Sadr ordered all of his offices to be shut and that his representatives could no longer speak on his behalf. His stated reason was that he wanted to maintain his reputation and family name against what saw as the deprivation of his movement and government. For example, there were stories that Sadr found corruption within his party, and was angry with some of his parliamentarians voting for the pension law this month. A few days later he gave a speech from Najaf elaborating on his decision. It turned out to be a fiery diatribe against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Sadr called the premier a dictator who was to blame for the bloody fighting in the country that hindered peace and prosperity. He claimed the entire government had fallen under the sway of politicians who only cared about their own personal gain rather than developing the country. He then went on to say that good politicians from his political list should continue with their work, but could not claim to be part of his movement anymore. He specifically mentioned Maysan Governor Ali Dway Lazem and Baghdad Governor Ali al-Tamimi as examples of Sadrists who were serving the people and should continue on in their positions. Finally, Sadr said that people should follow his example and vote in this year’s election. This announcement caught everyone by surprise. With just two months before national balloting all the parties were just beginning to ramp up their campaigns. Now one of the major lists was seemingly pulling out of the game.
Not only was Iraq caught off guard by Sadr’s decision, it seemed like his own list was as well. Immediately after Sadr’s announcement eight politicians from his Ahrar (Liberal) bloc, Zainab Taie, Iman Musawi, Maha Dori, Hussein Mansouri, Hussein Alwan al-Lami, Hussein Humham, Jawad Shihili, and Jaafar Musawi all said they were resigning from parliament. Former parliamentarian Fawzi Turzi said that he would not run in 2014, and several provincial council members in Qadisiyah and the deputy governor Hussein Musawi, and the deputy governor in Wasit Adel Hamza Hamidi all said they were pulling out of politics as well out of respect for Sadr. The head of the Sadr bloc Diyah al-Asadi told the press that these were all individual acts, and not due to a decision by the list. After Sadr’s speech the party’s politicians said that they would reconsider their withdrawals, and there were reports that the movement told its members to stop resigning. Given the fact that the Ahrar bloc holds 40 seats in parliament and 47 members on various provincial councils the number of people who followed Sadr’s lead was rather miniscule. They could have been doing it symbolically to prove their loyalty to Sadr or be part of his plan to show how upright his list is.
This is not the first time that Sadr has dropped out of politics. Back in August 2013 he said he was retiring as well. That time there was even more confusion as the list initially denied the story. Then it turned it into a major event where hundreds of members showed their devotion to Sadr, and militia leaders sent him a letter marked with their own blood pledging their support for him. The cause behind that retirement was Sadr’s desire to rally his forces, and deal with some feuding factions within his movement. With order restored Sadr returned and continued on with his business. This most recent decision looks to be aimed at achieving the same goal. Already his supporters swarmed his office in Najaf urging him to reconsider his withdrawal on February 15, and then two days later hundreds marched in Maysan saying that they stood behind their leader. Getting his base riled up before the vote is an obvious goal of his.
Rather than being an act of disgust at Iraq’s political system, this latest move by Moqtada al-Sadr appears to be a calculated move to prepare his party of this year’s election. Various members of his list have showed their devotion by symbolically retiring with Sadr. Hundreds of his followers have gone out into the streets to display their loyalty. Sadr has told them that they should all vote this year. If he doesn’t reconstitute his list before the April balloting he will most likely tell his movement who to vote for as he did in 2009 when the Sadrists did not run as an official party. He has also made it clear that this year’s election is all about the prime minister. In his speech he made it clear that Maliki is to blame for all of Iraq’s problems. While in 2010 Sadr threw his weight behind the prime minister, which assured him of a second term, this year Moqtada believes that he can make a real challenge to his rule. This was shown after the 2013 provincial vote when Ahrar worked with other parties to shut out Maliki’s State of Law from several of the new local governments. Finally, Sadr’s announcement and subsequent speech has gained all the headlines not only in Iraq, but in the region and internationally. This has given him far more attention than a regular campaign could have. Two months from now observers can see whether this decision paid off or not.
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Al Mada, “Conflicting reports about the political future of the Liberal bloc resignations and transmitted to the provinces,” 2/18/14
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Sotaliraq, “Sadr’s political life, retire and close his offices and disown those Sadrist in the government and parliament,” 2/15/14