On May 2, 2009 Moqtada al-Sadr made a rare public appearance in Turkey. The last time he’d been seen was a TV interview on Al Jazeera on March 29, 2008. His previous personal appearance was a speech given in Kufa, Iraq on May 15, 2007. Since February 2007 Sadr has been in the holy city of Qom, Iran studying to be an ayatollah. He also left Iraq to escape the Surge, which he believed rightfully would eventually target him and his movement. The goal of his emergence was to meet with his leaders and forge a new political strategy for the future.
Initially, few understood why Sadr would show up in Turkey of all places, but it was later revealed that it was a political meeting of top Sadrist officials. Sadr met with 70 members of his movement according to Iraq Slogger, including five Sadrist parliamentarians. The main issue discussed was the future of the Sadrist Trend, and how it will participate in the parliamentary elections, which are now scheduled for January 30, 2010. Sadr’s top spokesman said that the movement would follow a similar strategy as it did in the January 2009 provincial elections when it didn’t form its own party, but rather supported independents. As a sign of this new direction, Sadr announced that he had given up armed struggle against the Americans, and would now concentrate on politics and culture. To gain legitimacy and show his new stance Sadr met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan. Sadrist officials also said that their leader would soon be returning to Iraq when his religious training was finished.
In the 2009 elections the Sadrists had mixed results. They lost control of Maysan where they held the governorship, and reportedly did badly in Sadr City. Their overall percentage of votes also went down from 12.7% in the 2005 provincial elections to 8.1% in 2009. They did however gain representation in eleven provinces compared to just three in 2005. The Sadrist backed Independent Trend of the Noble Ones formed ruling coalitions with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law in two of them, Babil and Dhi Qar.
At the same time the government continues to target selected Sadr officials. On May 10 for example, Iraqi security forces raided the house of a Sadrist imam in Kadhemiya, Baghdad, but he wasn’t home, and the police claimed to have arrested a Sadrist leader in Dhi Qar who was accused of terrorism.
As reported before, the Sadr movement has also faced numerous divisions. The latest was when 200 moderates formed their own breakaway social and political group in March 2009. The previous month it was reported that Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the League of the Righteous, a Special Group supported by Iran, was planning on forming its own political party for the parliamentary elections. Qais Khazali formed the League. Khazali was one of Sadr’s father’s top followers who kept the movement together after Saddam Hussein assassinated the elder Sadr. The League claims to be the legitimate Sadr movement, and still believes in armed struggle. The last two times Sadr is known to have come back to Iraq in May 2007 and April 2008 it was to try to deal with these various breakaway groups. Prime Minister Maliki and other Shiite leaders have also been trying to peel away Sadrs followers.
Sadr has been trying to move away from being seen as a militia leader and more as a politician since he originally ordered a ceasefire in August 2007. He now rejects using violence, but his movement has split into so many different groups, and lost standing with everyday Shiites because of the new status quo created after the end of the sectarian war, that he doesn’t have the influence and control that he once did. His main goal now is probably to unify his followers, build on his showing in the provincial elections, and prove to be a larger player in parliament. He may end up losing seats however as he had mixed results in January 2009.
For more on Sadr see:
Massive Security Raids In Basra
Anbar Sheikhs Reach Out To Shiites
New Challenges To Sadr's Leadership
Iran's Policy Towards Iraq
How Did The Sadrists Do In The Provincial Elections?
A Divided Sadr Trend
Sadrists Announce Parties They Support For Provincial Elections
Combating Terrorism Center's Report On Iran's Role In Iraq
Combating Terrorism Center Report On Iranian Training of Shiite Militants
Shiite Rivalries Increasing As Provincial Elections Near
How Failure To Deal With Iraq's Militias Caused The Breakdown Of The Country
Another Sadrist Assassinated
Sadrist Cleric Assassinated In Basra
Sadr Struggles To Remain Relevant
Sadr's Leadership Or Lack Thereof
Hezbollah's Role In Iraq
Desperation Move By The Sadrists? Update II
Desperation Move By The Sadrists? Update I
Vali Nasr: Iranian Policy In Iraq At A Crossroads
Operation Promise of Peace In Maysan Province
Overview Of Iran's Influence In Iraq
Desperation Move By The Sadrists?
Sadr's Leadership Or Lack Thereof
Agence France Presse, “Iraq radical cleric meets fellow Shiites,” 5/2/09
- “Iraq sets election date,” 5/18/09
Alsumaria, “Iraq elections leaks say Al Maliki ahead,” 2/2/09
Associated Press, “Shiite militia may be disintegrating,” 3/21/07
Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraqi security forces raid cleric’s house in Kadhemiya,” 5/10/09
- “Thi-Qar police say arrested Sadrist leader,” 5/10/09
Bozkurt, Abdullah, “Deciphering Muqtada al-Sadr’s visit to Turkey: forging new relations,” Today’s Zaman, 5/13/09
Chon, Gina, “Iraq Hopes Grow on Split in Sadr Body, Amnesties,” Wall Street Journal, 3/30/09
Cobanoglu, Cagri, “Al-Sadr asks Ankara to play bigger role in Middle East,” Today’s Zaman, 5/4/09
Cochrane, Marisa, “The Fragmentation of the Sadrist Movement,” Institute for the Study of War, January 2009
Eisenstadt, Michael, “Populism, Authoritarianism, and National Security in al-Maliki’s Iraq,” Washington Institute for Near East Studies, 5/12/09
Fayad, Ma’ad, “Iran Ordered Muqtada al-Sadr to Return to Al-Najaf – Iraqi Sources,” Asharq Alawsat, 4/14/08
Felter, Joseph and Fishman, Brian, “Iranian Strategy in Iraq, Politics and ‘Other Means,’” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 10/13/08
Ibrahim, Waleed, “’Surprise’ poll victories strengthen Iraq’s Maliki,” Retuers, 2/1/09
Mohsen, Amer, “Iraq Papers Thu: The Convention,” IraqSlogger.com, 5/6/09
Reuters, “Iraq’s Sadr back in Iran – U.S. military sources,” 7/8/07
Ricks, Thomas and Raghavan, Suadrasan, “Sadr Back in Iraq, U.S. Generals Say,” Washington Post, 5/25/07
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