Monday 13 May 2024 - 22:08

Al-Sadr’s Comeback with New Political Look: Signs and Reasons

Story Code : 1134888
Al-Sadr’s Comeback with New Political Look: Signs and Reasons
Though al-Sadr after the 2021 election chose political self-isolation, but the fact is that no matter how long his distance from the world of politics becomes, the attention will not be removed from his activities. He is the unpredictable man of political developments in Iraq and his track record shows that he always looks for the best opportunity to surprise all. Now, some of his engrossing moves have made media to once again raise the possibility of his return to politics. 

A rare meeting 

There are signs that support imminent return of the al-Sadr to the politics. 

The first and most important sign is the private meeting of the leader of the Sadrist Movement with Ayatollah Sayyed Ali al-Sistani, the grand Shiite authority, in March. This meeting, as interpreted by figures close to him, supports the idea that al-Sadr has political motivations.

Six sources from the Sadrist Movement told the media outlets that this meeting took place on March 18 with Ayatollah al-Sistani, and since this Shiite cleric rarely gets directly involved in the politics and usually does not meet with politicians, receiving al-Sadr means "implicit support" to him.

Even the media close to al-Sadr have quoted one of the clerics of Ayatollah Sistani's office as saying that in this meeting al-Sadr talked about a possible comeback to political life and parliament and came out of this important meeting with a "positive result."

Even if we move past the semiotics about the meeting of al-Sadr and al-Sistani, certainly meeting with this grand Shiite authority is a significant achievement clearing the possible problems ahead of al-Sadr's return to politics. Shortly before his walkout from the politics, al-Sadr had faced a big challenge and it was the strong-toned statement of his former master and Shiite authority, Sayyed Kazzem al-Haeri, who criticized his scientific and jurisprudential qualification. This statement was not something al-Sadr could simply ignore, and he saw it a prerequisite to have the acceptance of another religious authority for his return to the politics and community.

From another aspect, a few days after this meeting, al-Sadr called on the Saerun parliamentary bloc's representatives who resigned from the parliament in 2021 to gather and reestablish contacts with the political base of the movement, something heralding his long step for a powerful comeback to the politics.

Meanwhile, Iraqi media citing sources close to al-Sadr reported that he has decided to rename his political movement to Shiite National Movement, which can mean a new effort to strengthen the movement's social base among the Shiites and also to redefine his movement politically and ideologically based on the new political and social realities.

Political mobilization of masses is a tactic and skill that makes al-Sadr distinct from other Iraqi political leaders. He has always maintained his role in the background of populist events. Recently, his intensive stances on a parliamentary debate to declare Eid Al-Ghadir—the day Prophet Muhammad announced first Shiite Imam Ali bin Abu Talib as his legitimate successor— as a national holiday in the official Iraqi calender brought his name back to the headlines. In this debate, he seems to see an opportunity to boost his political base in the Shiite community.

Record of al-Sadr's political walkouts and comebacks

The story of al-Sadr's political walkouts and returns is the reason that turns his controversial behavior into media and political controversy. 

He has so far several times announced his political retirement and then returned to politics. In 2013, for example, he retired himself from politics for his dispute with the United Front at the cabinet of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He retreated from his decision a month later, however. 

At that time, al-Sadr justified his stance shift in a statement: "Although I am now inclined to retire and isolate myself from society, I could not remain silent in the face of this good and believing crowd rising up." 

A year later, he quitted political scene, dissolved his movement, and closed their offices, excluding some media and voluntary branches. This did not last long as his parliamentary bloc in the same year won 34 seats in the general elections. 

In 2016, his supporters stormed the parliament building after a motion to reform the political quota system failed to win support. 

Before the 2018 parliamentary elections, al-Sadr re-introduced himself as the top contender and formed an alliance with independents, communists and seculars, but in October of the same year he again announced his intention to retire from political life and pledged not to name any candidates for cabinet posts. 

In December 2019, his office stated that he issued instructions for closure of all of organizations affiliated with Sadrist Movement for a full year, excluding the shrines of his father and brothers and his private office. 

The move also triggered closure of X and Facebook accounts of Mohammad Saleh al-Iraqi, known as al-Sadr's minister. 

His movement returned, however, and participated in the 2021 elections, winning the biggest number of seats. 

Is al-Sadr more politically mature now? 

Iraqi people and politicians usually know al-Sadr for his political controversies, uncompromising stances, and upsetting the common political rules, and this certainly puts many, including those in the current government, in the confusion of return of his unpredictable behaviors. 

In any case, he has introduced himself as the "hero of the deprived and weak" and has a significant popular base at least in Sadr city of Baghdad and Najaf city. 

Though it is difficult to talk about prediction of al-Sadr's political behavior given his political record and personality aspects, a look at the present state of Iraqi and regional equations shows that the current conditions are considerably different from the time he announced his retirement three years ago. Firstly, the government of PM Mohammad Shia al-Sudani has managed to continue work with a relative political stability despite the troubles at the beginning of its formation. This stability closed the door to a major gap inside the coalition government, even between the central government and the Kurds despite continuation of differences over oil and federal budget, and the early election, on which Sadrist Movement has its eye, remains shelved. 

Additionally, al-Sudani's government has presented an acceptable performance in terms of fighting corruption and providing welfare and infrastructural services to the citizens like water and electricity, and so there is no room to challenge its performance. 

The regional conditions have also changed as after Hamas’s Operation Al-Aqsa Storm the resistance has gained further popularity and power. The Axis of Resistance has shown that it can alone counter the destabilizing American and Israeli conspiracies and indeed the Iraqi public find any political destabilization as detrimental to their country and playing into the American and Israeli hands. 

Given these factors, a prominent Sadrist politician told Al-Shargh news website that this movement may seek to coalesce with some ruling Shiites factions and figures like PM al-Sudani who is highly popular. 

The Sadrist politician added: "In the [ruling coalition] Shiite Coordination Framework, there are some factions with which we have long-time ties and can coalesce before or after the elections."