In the beginning of November, the first stories began to appear that Maliki had promised the Sadrists several southern governorships in return for their support of his premiership. Maysan, Qadisiyah, Babil, and Dhi Qar were all mentioned. Maysan was especially important to the Sadrists since it was the only province along with Wasit that they controlled after the 2005 elections. Then in June 2008 Maliki launched Operation Promise of Peace there, after cracking down on militias in Basra and Baghdad. Iraqi security forces eventually arrested the governor, head of the provincial council, the deputy chief of the security committee, and the head of the health committee, along with hundreds of militiamen all for being part of the Sadr Trend. In the 2009 provincial elections, the Sadrists made a bit of a comeback, coming in third behind State of Law and the Supreme Council’s Al-Mihrab Martyr List. The Sadrists were hoping to joint the ruling coalition there, but were eventually shut out after Maliki cut a deal with the Martyr List. Finally, in the 2010 vote, the Sadrists ended up winning three of the ten parliamentary seats up for grabs in the governorate.
When word spread that Maliki may give Maysan to the Sadr movement, local officials objected. Former Governor Sudani for example, rejected any deal cut between the prime minister and Sadrists for control of the province. His complaints were nullified when he was sent to Baghdad to join the new cabinet. That opened the way for Ali Dway to assume the governorship despite the Sadrists not being part of the ruling coalition.
With the election of Dway the Sadrists have increased their standing in Iraq. They now have the governors in Maysan and Babil, as well as the head of the provincial council in Karbala. That goes along with their kingmaker role in forming the new Maliki government, six ministries, and the deputy speaker of parliament. Many Iraqi politicians have told the press that this is an important development, because they want the Sadr Trend within the government rather than outside where they can cause trouble. After Maliki’s crackdowns in 2008, Moqtada al-Sadr announced that he was disbanding the Mahdi Army, and turning towards politics. With their surprising showing in the recent parliamentary elections, they are now talking about becoming the dominant Shiite party in Iraq, which could lead them to the premiership sometime in the future. Their advances however, need to be taken with a grain of salt. In 2005, Sadr attempted the exact same thing, running in the two elections that year, and being the force behind Maliki assuming power in 2006. Those moves eventually backfired as more militant factions of his movement split, he lost standing with some in the street who were opposed to the Iraqi government, and he ended up telling his followers to boycott the cabinet, which opened the door to the Americans and Maliki targeting his militia. With the sectarian war over and the Americans on the way out, the Sadr Trend may face a more favorable situation this time around. While some of their new politicians have blood on their hands like former deputy Health Minister Hakim Zamili who was in charge of running death squads out of the ministry, others are technocrats and professionals. At the same time, an estimated 1,500 former Mahdi Army fighters have recently been released, which was also part of the agreement with Maliki. If those men aren’t given jobs they could join Special Groups or gangs, and start problems all over again for both Sadr and the authorities. The future then, holds both peril and promise for the Sadrists, who have proven to be survivors if nothing else.
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