Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sadr Reverses Himself On Armed Struggle And Protests In Iraq

Thousands of Sadrists appeared on the streets of Iraq recently in several different cities to demand the government perform better, and for an American withdrawal. Just the week before Moqtada al-Sadr also announced that his militia, the Promised Day Brigades, would no longer carry out attacks upon United States forces for the rest of the year. Both of these were complete reversals for Sadr who beforehand said he would not be holding any protests, and praised the armed struggle against the U.S.
Sadrists in Baghdad's Sadr City (Reuters)
On September 16, 2011, Sadrists protested in Baghdad, Basra, Nasiriyah, Kut, Kufa, and several towns in Diyala province. In the capital’s Sadr City, they carried coffins to symbolize power shortages, the lack of food rations, and joblessness. Some also hoisted electrical appliances like fans and generators. In Basra, where an estimated 2,000 came out after Friday prayers, and in Najaf, they demanded U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq. A Sadrist sheikh in Kufa, Najaf province warned that the demonstrations were a prelude to a campaign to force the government to give into Sadr’s demands, which included sharing the country’s oil revenues with the public, 50,000 new jobs, and the distribution of generators to help boost the power supply
Protest in Kut, Wasit (Buratha News)
This all came after Sadr went back and forth over whether he would call for national protests or not. On August 26, he said that there should be new demonstrations in Iraq to pressure the government. At the end of that month, a six-month deadline Moqtada had given Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to improve his performance also expired. Then seemingly inexplicably, Sadr gave the authorities another six months to do a better job. The movement also said that it would not join national protests that occurred on September 9. Then on the day of the marches, Sadr said that the people had to the right to go out into the streets, and warned that Maliki was moving towards being a dictator. Three days later, the Sadrists claimed they had called off their own protests, and instead were going to hold an assembly in support of Maliki for listening to them! The schizophrenic series of announcements must have left Sadr’s followers confused. Sadr was obviously indecisive over whether he wanted to openly challenge Maliki or not. Previously, Sadr had given in to the prime minister’s pressure, but in the end it failed as the Sadr Trend did turn out on September 16.

On the other hand, Sadr appeared to appease Maliki over security. On September 7, Sadr praised the Hezbollah Brigades for their fight against the U.S. occupation. The Brigades are the most active Special Group, and has been responsible for several deaths of U.S. troops in recent months. Sadr’s own Promised Day Brigades usually issues monthly statements about their own attacks upon the Americans. Then on September 10, it was reported that Sadr said his forces would no longer carry out operations against the U.S. for the rest of the year. The statement threatened renewed assaults if the Americans stayed into 2013, but for now, it said that the Trend did not want to give an excuse for the United States troops to stay in Iraq. This reversal could only please Maliki who is coming under increasing pressure over violence in Iraq. Most of this anger is over attacks by Al Qaeda in Iraq and the insurgency, but there has been an increase in reporting about Shiite militia attacks upon U.S. convoys and bases as well, that can only give the impression that the security situation is deteriorating in the country. Sadr gave into Maliki previously about his anti-American attacks when he backed off a threat to bring back the Mahdi Army in July. Since Sadr is the leading figure in opposing the U.S. presence in Iraq it can only be assumed that he once again acquiesced to the prime minister’s demands that he tone down his rhetoric and actions.

Moqtada al-Sadr (EPA)
In recent months Sadr and Maliki have been playing a delicate game. Sadr was the reason why the prime minister was able to hold onto his office after the March 2010 elections. In return, the Sadrists were given prominent service ministries, and many of its militiamen were released from prisons. This was all part of Sadr’s attempt to return to the political mainstream, which utterly failed in the previous Maliki administration. At the same time, Sadr wanted to maintain his credibility with the Iraqi street. He therefore occasionally supported the protests that started at the beginning of the year, and consistently demanded that the Americans leave the country, backed up by attacks by his militia. This caused friction with the prime minister that wanted to silence the demonstrators and maintain the image of a stable and secure Iraq. Through carrots and sticks it appeared that Maliki was able to keep Sadr under control as he backed down from one threat after another to increase pressure on the government. The September 16 marches might be a break from this, but that’s yet to be seen. Sadr appears more and more erratic with his public announcements showing that he must be split over whether to challenge the premier or not. Sadr’s previous struggles to maintain a position within the government, while acting as an outsider must be weighing on him, but in the process he is appearing as an indecisive leader that constantly goes back and forth on almost every topic. That can only help Maliki who needs to shore up his support amongst the Shiite parties so that he can consolidate his hold on the country, and fend off his rivals. If the Sadrists were to truly break with him, Maliki would be in serious trouble because he would then be facing Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement, the Kurdish Coalition that is becoming angered at the prime minister for failing to follow through with his election promises to them, and his own coalition. That would leave the premier isolated and threatened from all sides. Sadr must know this, and could be using it to his advantage to gain more concessions. How this struggle turns out is yet to be seen, but in the meantime it will likely lead to more tension between Maliki and Sadr.


Agence France Presse, “Sadrists take to Iraq’s streets in demos,” 9/16/11

Alsumaria, “Iraq Sadr Front to demonstrate in support of Maliki government,” 9/12/11
- “Promised Day Brigade claims operations against US troops in Iraq,” 8/17/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Today’s Sadrist Demonstration is a prelude to open protest – Seikh,” 9/16/11

Buratha News, “Sadrists demonstrate in Wasit to demand the allocation of money from oil revenues to citizens,” 9/16/11

Ibrahim, Haider, “Kurds end negotiations with Baghdad, discuss withdrawal from government,” AK News, 9/15/11

Juhi, Bushra, “Shiite cleric’s followers protest shortages,” Associated Press, 9/16/11

Mardini, Ramzi, “The Revival of Shi’a Militancy in Iraq,” CTC Sentinel, August 2011

Al Nas Paper, “Maliki confirms the existence of internal and external parties will use demonstrations to topple the government,” 8/28/11

National Iraqi News Agency, “Cleric al-Sadr called on Iraqis to demonstrate and not to ignore the injustice,” 9/8/11
- “MP : The Sadrist trend authorize the people to demonstrate or not,” 9/3/11
- “Muqtada al-Sadr supported / Hezbollah Brigades,” 9/7/11
- “Sadr call on the people to demand their rights, describes silence as building dictatorship,” 9/9/11
- “Sadr calls for demonstrations of millions after Eid holyday because the six-month ultimatum given to the government has ended,” 8/26/11

Parker, Ned, “Dozens of Iraqis pardoned at Sadr movement’s behest,” Los Angeles Times, 7/27/11

Al Rafidayn, “Sadr gives the government another deadline and deny the existence of regional pressure to cancel events,” 9/4/11

Schmidt, Michael and Thaker, Zaid, “Iraqi Cleric Tells Followers to Halt Attacks,” New York Times, 9/10/11

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