Saturday, February 1, 2020

Sadr Returns To Iraq’s Protests After Betraying Them For Iran

(Reuters)

Moqtada al-Sadr made another dramatic swing in direction. On January 24, Sadr held a rally in Baghdad against the U.S. presence in Iraq and told his followers to withdraw from the protests sites. The next day government forces began attacks on protest camps across the country with deadly results. Sadr had been supporting the demonstrations since their start in October, but reportedly abandoned them in return for Iranian backing. That deal fell apart, and Sadr reversed himself and is now trying to rejoin the protests. This is one of the biggest and quickest flip flops in Sadr’s career.

Al Aalem ran two stories that gave background to Sadr’s back and forth. First, it reported that Iran was changing its Iraq policy after the death of Quds Force commander General Qasim Suleimani. There was a meeting of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, intelligence service, the Foreign Ministry, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah that decided that Tehran would back Sadr in an attempt to remove the U.S. presence from Iraq. This led to Sadr meeting with various Hashd leaders in Qom, Iran where he resides and they agreed on a united front against the Americans. The next day he called for a million people to rally against the foreign military presence. This arrangement quickly fell apart. By January 28, Al Aalem said that pro-Iran groups could not agree with Sadr on who would be the next premier and who would replace Abu Muhandis, who was killed along with General Suleimani, as the deputy head of the Hashd Commission. The Iraqi groups aligned with Iran have always been fractious, and this was another example. The absence of Suleimani and Muhandis to rally them was an added problem. Three days after the Al Aalem piece Sadr called for his followers to head back to the protest sites. Sadr has a complicated history with Iran. While he complains about their interference in Iraq, he has always accepted their support at the same time. He is also living in Qom to not only pursue his religious studies, but because he fears assassination by some of the groups Tehran backs. He appeared to be extremely opportunistic to accept their backing this time around in lieu of the deaths of Suleimani and Muhandis.

Sadr is acting as if the protest movement will now forgive and forget his betrayal. This will be hard to do as government forces brutally attacked the sit in sites after Sadr’s announcement on January 24. Human Rights Watch released a report documenting the crackdown which included burning down tents, firing live ammunition at crowds, and an arrest campaign across Baghdad, Basra, and Dhi Qar. There were additional assaults upon the protest squares in Najaf and Karbala not included in the report. At least 12 people lost their lives as a result. Initially there was no response by the protesters about the Sadrist return, but it will be interesting to see what they have to say. It seems like Sadr would have no chance to rejoin them, but Iraqi politics is always messy and complicated.

SOURCES

Al-Aalem, “A coup in Iran’s policy towards Iraq: Sadr is a last resort to confront the United States,” 1/20/20
- “Has the Iranian decision at Qom meeting between Sadr and the factions collapsed?” 1/28/20

Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Authorities Violently Remove Protesters,” 1/31/20

NINA, “Followers Of The Sadrist Movement Flock To Tahrir Square Again,” 1/31/20b

7 comments:

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Steve Smith said...

Your commentary here doesn't seem very objective. One newspaper makes claims that might or might not be substantiated and you headline the piece with an assertion of "betrayal" by Sadr. What do we know about al Aalem?

I agree that Sadr's relationship with Iran has been complex.

The question is who is leading and organizing the protests? Are the anti-corruption activists being used by those who wish to destabilize the Shia-led government of Iraq? I think it's certainly possible. It's interesting how absent the coverage of the protesters and their identity has been in the media.

Sadr is presumably trying to balance his support of the anti-corruption movement with his distaste for the US role (and the Iranian role to a lesser extent) in Iraq. Labeling this "betrayal" seems very questionable to me.

Joel Wing said...

Everyone who has been in the protests and talked with the young people there will say that it is grass roots organizers unaffiliated with any political party that started the protests this time around. If the movement was aligned with some party it would have come out over the last 4 months.

And yes they want to destabilize the govt because they don't believe in the political system.

And if you don't think backing the protests, then withdrawing support to allow a govt crackdown, then coming back is a betrayal then I don't know what is.

Joel Wing said...

Sadr calls for arrest of protesters blocking roads and to punish teachers and students on strike.

https://www.rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iraq/020220201

Nope Sadr is definitely not turning on the people he used to stand with.

Joel Wing said...

Protest coordinating committee said Sadr "betrayed the revolution"

https://www.alhurra.com/a/القبعات-الزرقاء-مسلحون-حقائق-ميليشيات-الصدر-سرايا-السلام-السلمية-بغداد-النجف-مقتدى-جيش-المهدي-أبو-درع/532221.html

Steve Smith said...

Just because some interested party says it doesn't mean it's objectively true.

Joel Wing said...

You have nothing to stand on

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