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Al-Sadr Movement / Sadrist Trend

Iraqi radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr announced his retirement from politics February 16, 2014 [this withdrawal lasted two years]. In a handwritten note posted on his website, Sadr announced his "non-intervention in all political affairs." He said "there is no bloc that represents us from now on." Sadr and his militia group, the Mehdi Army, gained prominence after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Sadr said he was closing down all his offices, except for some charities.

According to the statement, Sadr's surprise decision came to " protect his family's name, and to end all evil acts that occurred and are likely to occur under the name of our family or under the name of our offices." It wasn't immediately clear whether Sadr's decision was permanent, but this move has had immediate impacts on the political scene, with more than seven members of parliament in his political bloc, al-Ahrar, resigning after losing their religious legitimacy following Sadr's withdrawal. Sadr's group currently holds 40 seats in the 325-member parliament as well as six cabinet posts in Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki's Shiite-led government. Observers expected that more members of parliament in Sadr's bloc and allied politicians will resign, bringing the country's political process to a new deadlock.

Led by firebrand Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the movement emerged as perhaps the most militant anti-American force in Iraq. Al-Sadr is the son of the late Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who was gunned down, presumably by Saddam Hussein's men, along with Muqtada's two brothers, in 1999. JAM (aka the Mahdi Army) was formed in 2003 by Moqtada al-Sadr as the military wing of his Office of Martyr Sadr (OMS) party to enforce the Sadrist's nationalist - anti Coalition/anti Iran - agenda and to protect Shi'as from attacks by Sunni insurgents, particularly al-Qaeda. Since there were few Sunnis and minimal al-Qaeda activity in southeastern Iraq, JAM focused its efforts on asserting its dominance throughout the region. Fiercely nationalist, al-Sadr's military wing, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, actively resisted U.S.-led occupation efforts; various tallies put its numbers as several-thousand strong, although exact figures were unavailable. The Mahdi Army's mouthpiece was the "Ansar Al-Mahdi" newspaper, which was edited by Ahmad Al-Mutayri.

On 07 August 2004, the interim Iraqi prime minister signed a limited amnesty law that pardoned insurgents who had committed minor crimes but had not killed anyone. Iyad Allawi said insurgents had 30 days to turn themselves in to Iraqi security forces in order to qualify for the amnesty. The prime minister offered an olive branch to Moqtada al-Sadr. Allawi particularly offered al-Sadr a chance to distance himself from the actions of his followers and begin taking part in the political process. Allawi said "I have been having positive messages from Moqtada al-Sadr. That is why we don't think that the people who are committing the crimes in Najaf and elsewhere are his people. We think they are people using his name. We invite, and I invite from this platform, Moqtada al-Sadr to participate in the elections next year." Previously, Moqtada al-Sadr has rejected invitations to participate in a national conference and national council, and had not indicated any willingness to take part in the elections scheduled for January.

As of April 2007 Muqtada al-Sadr's political element belonged to the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) and controlled 32 seats in parliament as well as the Ministries of Agriculture, Health, and Transportation. A U.S. briefing in Baghdad on 11 February 2007 accused the Qods (Jerusalem) Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard of supplying Iraqi Shiite militias, including the Mahdi Army, with weapons and explosives. U.S. officials alleged that Sadr's political power and significant following, in addition to his anti-American outlook, made the leader and the Mahdi Army an attractive ally to the Iranians. Iran has repeatedly denied the charges that it has supplied or trained Iraqi combatants and militias.

In June 2008, Sadr announced his intention to prioritize his organization's cultural, religious and socio-economic outreach while reducing its emphasis on political and militant activity, likely in an effort to regain popular support. This effort was relatively successful, enabling the Sadrists to gain sufficient representation in Shia-dominated provinces to be a key partner in ruling coalitions in most southern provincial councils.

The Sadrist movement's influence declined during 2008. Muqtada al-Sadr's decision to cease Jaysh al-Mahdi militant activity against government forces combined with aggressive Iraqi security force operations against JAM reduced the Sadrist's ability to use force to control and influence the population. In addition, during 2008 the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the Dawa Party successfully undermined the Sadrist movement, limiting its ability to influence government decisions.

The Iraqi National Alliance (INA) was officially formed on August 24, 2009 and was often seen as the successor of the pan-Shi'a United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which captured a plurality of votes in the 2005 national elections. Comprised of 32 entities, including a small number of token Sunni figures, the INA stood as the strongest competition to PM Maliki's State of Law Alliance (SLA) for the Iraqi Shi'a vote. The INA candidate list contained prominent names from across the Iraqi Shi'a political arena, including several prospective candidates for Iraq's next Prime Minister. Tensions between the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the Sadrist Trend -- the two biggest components of the INA -- increased after the elections. The INA enjoyed strong name recognition and party loyalty, but its electoral prospects was limited by its sectarian image and its close ties to Iran.

Iran's over-arching political objective for Iraq's January 2010 election was the re-election of a Shia-dominated, preferably Islamist, coalition led by Tehran's closest allies, notably ISCI and the Sadrist Trend under the rubric of the Iraqi National Alliance coalition (INA). Iraq, given its proximity to Iran and its shared Shia heritage, represents a vital foreign policy priority for the Iranian government's (IRIG) efforts to project its ideology and influence in the region. An economically dependent and politically subservient Iraq would foster greater strategic depth for Tehran. Iranian president Ahmadinejad has referred to Iraq in press statements as "a Shia base" confronting the broader menace perpetrated by those opposed to Iraq's identity and stability (i.e., Sunni states, the West).

Thousands of supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr demonstrated in the center of Baghdad March 18, 2016, a fourth consecutive Friday, amid calls for government reform. Iraq's Interior Ministry said it refused permission for the protest, but security forces appeared to have relented. Iraqi television channels showed throngs of the al-Sadr supporters crossing several bridges into Baghdad's governmental Green Zone. Other video showed protesters setting up a sit-in inside the zone, which houses parliament, top leaders' residences, and the U.S. and British embassies.

Al-Sadr's spokesman, Sheikh Salah Obeidi, claimed that “hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are participating” in Friday's demonstrations “to demand reform of the government.” Al-Sadr has given the government 45 days to appoint a new cabinet made up of technocrats.

Observers thought al-Sadr was probably acting at the behest of neighboring Iran. He said al-Sadr is part of Iran's chess game in Iraq, alongside other pro-Iranian actors, and might be trying to develop a civil movement to protest corruption with Iran's encouragement.

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Page last modified: 20-03-2016 15:22:36 ZULU