On February 23, 2011 Moqtada al-Sadr returned to Iraq after leaving on January 20. His immediate concern upon arriving in Najaf appeared to be appropriating control of the on-going protests in Iraq.
On the day that Sadr came back to Iraq, his movement issued a statement saying that people should not join the planned “Day of Rage” protest on February 25. Instead, the Sadr Trend said that it would conduct a survey across the country on February 28 to see what services they wanted. If those were not met by the government it would hold its own protest in six months. That, along with a announcement by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s office that the demonstration could get out of hand and be exploited by others, will probably greatly reduce the Shiite participation in the march.
|Sadrist parliamentarian Maha al-Dori talking with demonstrators in Baghdad, 2/23/11 (AP)|
The Sadr movement is obviously trying to take advantage of the situation going on within the country. It likes to portray itself as a popular social and religious group, in touch with the common Iraqi. It would be abrogating its claim to power if it did not try to stand with the people demonstrating. At the same time, the Sadrists have always had a hard time balancing their image of being in touch with the street with trying to be a legitimate political party. The Sadrists for example, want people to demonstrate against the lack of services, but now control six ministries such as Planning and Public Works that are in charge of providing them. It’s also an open question as to how much influence Sadr can garner with the masses currently protesting. This may turn out to be a short-term gamble that has long-term repercussions for the Trend.
Agence France Presse, “Demonstrators in Iraq demand jobs and electricity,” 2/16/11
- “Radical Shiite cleric Sadr ‘back in Iraq,’” 2/23/11
Alsumaria, “Iraqis anger spelled out in street protests,” 2/11/11
- “Najaf Residents reluctant about Sadr protests,” 2/15/11
- “Al Sadr to conduct referendum in Iraq,” 2/23/11
Al-Haffar, Hasson, “Sadrist Current threaten to withdraw from parliament over Kut protest clashes,” AK News, 2/19/11
Schmidt, Michael and Ghazi, Yasir, “Iraq’s Top Shiite Leaders Urge Delay or Protests,” New York Times, 2/23/11