Muqtada al-Sadr pledges reform. However, he lacks much motivation to radically alter the very own institution in which he is deeply involved.
Although Muqtada al-Sadr may have instructed his supporters to leave the bloody clashes that erupted in Baghdad last week, the powerful Shia cleric’s most recent action has only postponed Iraq’s reckoning with the political paralysis that has dogged its affairs ever since the elections in October 2021. Al-Sadr has pledged to put a stop to this dysfunction. However, he is also accountable for it.
Al-Sadr won the election last year and is undoubtedly the most recognizable cleric-politician in the nation. Two factions emerged as a result of the elections: the Sadrist-led Saving the Homeland alliance (which also included Sunni and Kurdish forces) and the Coordination Framework, which was supported by and leans toward Iran. With 73 seats, the Sadrists emerged as the election’s greatest victor.
The victory, together with the sizable alliance they had put together, was seen by the Sadrists as an electoral and legal mandate for them to take power. Their leadership has pledged to end the “consensus administrations” — in which all political factions are represented in the administration — that have dominated Iraqi politics since 2005.
The political elites have historically engaged in protracted negotiations behind closed doors to choose who will form the next government and how much power each will have. The unanimity that forms is supported by social and political power in addition to election outcomes.
This is understood to be a prescription for disorder and a means of maintaining the state’s enslavement to the political elite in power. Political autonomy turns governmental institutions into personal fiefs that are utilized for wealth and the construction of favoritism networks because of weak institutions, the ineffectiveness of the rule of law, and a culture of venality that permeates elite politics.
What Does Al-Sadr Want?
Al-Sadr prefers that Iraq switch to a system whereby governments are chosen by simple popular vote, with victors and losers, a reigning government, and a parliamentary opposition. Withdrawal from the government, however, is intolerable to his competitors in Shia politics since it leaves them exposed on both a legal and a personal level in addition to losing their influence, power, and income.
Al-Sadr has said categorically that he will not support a CF-led administration because of their corruption, militaristic activity, and links to Iran. He has presented his viewpoint as one that is revolutionary and seeks to overthrow the foundations of the established system.
Since October, this conflict of interests has prevented the establishment of a government, and last week it turned violent. Some analysts have focused on al-Sadr’s progressive rhetoric and his Iraq-first posture in an effort to comprehend this intra-Shia division.
These, however, are only surface-level explanations for the motivations driving today’s competition. There is disagreement between Al-Sadr and his opponents over, among other things, the nature of Iraqi administration and Iraq’s relationship with Iran, although this is not the main cause of the unrest during the previous ten months. Al-Sadr’s “revolution” is really a power grab meant to establish dominance over the Iraqi state and Shia politics.