Sadr's rally against the US presence in Iraq .... (BBC)
... Was followed by a crackdown on the protest sites in Baghdad and Basra
Moqtada al-Sadr held his anti-U.S. protest in Baghdad’s Jadriya neighborhood on January 24. People protested against western forces being in the country and demanded that they leave. Sadr didn’t attend but issued a message to the crowd. He announced plans for this march on January 14. This was a day after he met with several leaders of pro-Tehran Hashd groups in Qom, Iran where he is currently living. Several of those groups participated in the march. Later in the day, the Iraqi forces attacked the sit-in sites in Basra and Baghdad. That pointed to an agreement between Sadr and the pro-Iran camp. Sadrists have been involved in the anti-government demonstrations since they began and provided unofficial security. They new round of attacks pointed to Sadr withdrawing this support and allowing Iran’s allies to make another attempt at breaking up the activists.
This move comes as stories appeared that Iran was courting Sadr. Al-Aalem reported that Tehran wanted Sadr to become its point person inside Iraq to replace Abu Muhandis, the former deputy head of the Hashd Commission who was killed by the United States. Some agreement has apparently been made hence the crackdown, but this may prove difficult in the long term. First, Sadr has deep rivalries with some in the Iranian camp like Asaib Ahl Al-Haq’s Qais Khazali that used to be a top deputy. He’s also living in Qom reportedly because he fears assassinations from some of the groups that he is now aligning with. Second, Sadr has been known to often switch his positions as shown by his backing the anti-government activists, and then turning on them. He has a history of working with Iran, and then turning away from it.
However that may work out the real loser in this scenario is the protests who demanded an end to all foreign influence in the country, and are now suffering another attempt at stamping out their movement.
Al-Aalem, “A coup in Iran’s policy towards Iraq: Sadr is a last resort to confront the United States,” 1/20/20
Bas News, “Iraq’s Sadr Calls for One Million Persons March against US Troops Presence,” 1/14/20
Hamzoz, “Basra Protest was completely brutally suppressed by shock forces under governer orders, Assad Aleidani Many Peaceful Protestors arrested, All tents burned,” Twitter 1/24/20
- “Live ammunition fire by the security forces from Al-Khulani Square in an attempt to storm Tahrir Square in #Baghdad after ending the sit-in by shooting force and burning tents in #Basra,” Twitter, 1/24/20
Henna, Ayman, “Iraqis mass to urge US troop ouster, youth rallies vie for spotlight,” Agence France Presse, 1/24/20
Al Hurra, “A definitive response from the Iraqi movement to the Millions for Sadr,” 1/15/20
Knights, Michael, “Soleimani Is Dead: The Road Ahead for Iranian-Backed Militias in Iraq,” CTC Sentinel, January 2020
NINA, “Factions Leaders Hold Joint Meeting With Sadr In Iran,” 1/13/20