Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sadr Struggles To Remain Relevant

Since March 2008 Moqtada al-Sadr has faced a series of government crackdowns and mass arrests of his followers. His top officials are being assassinated by rival Shiites. His often unclear and contradictory leadership style reported on earlier has also cost him support. Sadr’s new plan is to try to focus upon politics, specifically the negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq for a security agreement. Since May, Sadr has been calling for protests against the negotiations every week after prayers. He also said that any deal needs to be put before the public for a national referendum. This follows Sadr’s long-time anti-American stance. There have been arguments about just how many people show up, whether it is in the hundreds or thousands, but they have been continuing. The problem is that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s increasing calls for a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal are undermining Sadr’s position. This is just another sign that it will be an uphill battle for Sadr to keep his movement together.

Shiites no longer need the protection of the Mahdi Army anymore with the end of the sectarian war. The government is intent on breaking Sadr’s hold on neighborhoods throughout southern and central Iraq. Maliki is also out to undercut the Sadrists’ opposition to the United States with his hard-line stance in negotiations with Washington. This is all part of the inter-Shiite battle for power before the upcoming provincial elections. Sadr use to be one of the most powerful Shiite leaders in the country, who was expected to gain power after the voting, but now he is quickly losing support. Maliki is now trying to mold himself into the nationalist leader of the country, a position Sadr tried to stake himself as. After securing several cities in Iraq, he now needs to build up his own base and rebuild his Dawa party that recently split in two. So far, he has outplayed Sadr in both the military, and political fields, but what happens in the elections is still up for grabs.


Al Alam News, “Sadrists Protest US-Iraqi Security Deal,” 6/20/08

Ali, Fadhil, “The Mahdi Army: New Tactics for a New Stage,” Terrorism Monitor, Jamestown Foundation, 6/26/08

Salaheddin, Sinan, “Hundreds of Shiites protest US-Iraqi security deal,” Associated Press, 6/20/08

Bruce, Andrea, “Desperate for Army Aid in Baghdad,” Washington Post, 7/14/08

Fadhil, Omar, “Iraq’s political parties wrangle over the status of forces agreement,” Long War Journal.org, 6/17/08

Al Jazeera, “Iraqis condemn US defense pact plan,” 6/7/08

Missing Links Blog, “Backtracking,” 7/9/08

Mohsen, Amer, “Iraq Papers Mon: Australian Troops to Depart,” IraqSlogger.com, 6/1/08

Monsters & Critics, “Al-Sadr calls for protests against US security deal,” 5/27/08

Murphy, Brian and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “’Martyrs’ List’ tallies Mahdi Army troubles,” Associated Press, 7/29/08

Oppel, Richard and Farrell, Stephen, “Growing Opposition to Iraq Security Pact,” New York Times, 5/31/08

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Followers of al-Sadr protest U.S. presence,” San Francisco Chronicle, 5/31/08

Roggio, Bill, “Sadr forms new unit to attack US forces,” Long War Journal.org, 6/13/08

Tavernise, Sabrina, “Shiite Militia in Baghdad Sees Its Power Ebb,” New York Times, 7/27/08


Warpoet said...


Thank you for maintaining what appears to be a very well-researched and, from what I can tell, even-handed blog about a very partisan topic. I've only read a few articles here but overall I am very impressed.

As someone who follows events in Iraq fairly closely as well I find myself agreeing with most of what you've written: Maliki is indeed trying to undermine al-Sadr's position and hijack its nationalist undercurrent in order to promote himself with it. The point that I think needs to be made though is that it is far too soon to say whether or not he's going to be successful in that endeavor or if al-Sadr's movement is in any real jeopardy.

Maliki's challenge here is that he is trying to overcome something few in the current government have been able to divorce themselves from: the perception of being dishonest, foreign, out of touch, or some combination of the above. I have a friend from Najaf who says that the best way to become unpopular in Iraq is to become a politician, and I think he is correct. If one looks at polling done earlier this year they will find that approval ratings for both Maliki and the government are quite low - and while Western observers are quick to praise Maliki's offensive against the JAM, I've not seen any empirical evidence of how Iraqis feel about it.

Let's not forget that Maliki had to go through Iran to even get a ceasefire with al-Sadr - who I think Iran wants to keep in the picture - on top of needing British/American military support. The latter makes his support for a withdrawal timetable all the more surprising; it reinforces my suspicion, however, that his gamble against al-Sadr didn't pay off as well with Iraqis as it did with Westerners. The elections are going to tell a lot and I think will surprise many people. It will certainly be interesting to watch.



Joel Wing said...


1st, thanks for the compliments and comments. Glad you have found the blog and enjoy it.

2nd, I would tend to agree with your opinions on Maliki. He too is working from a position of weakness. His Dawa party just split in two when ex-PM Jaafari walked off and started his own group. Plus Dawa was always the smallest of the 3 major Shiite parties to begin with. They never had much support and little party structure on the ground. These are all things Maliki needs to overcome.

That probably means the SIIC will come out on top in the provincial elecitons unless something changes. They have social organizations in the South, they have the Badr Brigade, many police units are loyal to them, plus both the Sadrists and Fadhila are weak. The SIIC will probably keep the provinces they control in the south and add Basra. Maysan maybe a toss up. Who knows how Baghdad will go.

Also read the new piece about Maliki as well.

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