During Iraq’s recent crises, the young religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr has presented himself as a mature and visionary politician. In the past, Sadr, his movement and its military wing, the Mahdi Army militia, had a different image.
The change in Sadr’s political approach is not surprising. The political experience he has gained since 2003, the circumstances that accompanied the formation of his movement and splits at different stages, in addition to his studies in Iran and his personal experience resulted in the “New Sadr,” who is now a main safeguard against the country sliding into civil war.
Since 2011, Sadr has had a completely new political discourse. He speaks of a civil and democratic Iraq, the rule of law, social justice, and fair governance. The young Shiite leader showed great courage when he sided with the Kurds and the Iraqi List against his ally in the National Alliance, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Sadr led a parliamentary campaign that ended with the passage of a law limiting how many terms the prime minister can serve. He also put his movement’s political and popular weight behind passing a national budget, even though that position intersected with that of the Kurds and the Iraqi List.
At end of 2012, demonstrations swept through a number of Sunni cities. They called for changes in the terrorism and de-Baathification laws and for the release of their detainees. In some instances, there were calls to topple the government and abrogate the constitution, but Sadr took a moderate position. He neither fully opposed nor fully supported those demands. Of all the Shiite forces, Sadr’s position was the closest to the demonstrators’ demands.