The announcement of Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist movement, that he is retiring from politics triggered many reactions from political and popular circles in Iraq, as well as a lot of discussions and speculations about his motives.
For some, the decision put an end to the Sadrist movement as a force in the political process. Others considered his move to be a repeat of earlier similar steps to “retire” or “isolate,” that he soon reversed.
The speech he gave on Feb. 18, two days after his decision to retire, suggests that Sadr’s step was not a complete abandonment of politics, but perhaps a way to reposition himself politically and electorally.
Sadr’s speech was political par excellence. He talked about the failures of the Iraqi political process and sharply criticized Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom he called a dictator and a tyrant. He also criticized parliament, which he considered a weak authority with members seeking personal gains only.
Sadr expressed surprise at the support Maliki is getting from the “East and West,” a reference to Iran and the United States. This may add credibility to reports that Iran is pressuring Shiite politicians to support Maliki for a third term, but it may also mean that he wanted to anticipate such pressure by publicly distancing himself from the block’s decisions, which could be a way to circumvent such pressure in the future.
Sadr justified the decisions to dissolve his political offices and disengage from the Ahrar political bloc by claiming that his goal is to maintain the legacy of the Sadr family and its religious and moral status. This was a sign that Sadr was angered by actions of Sadrist bloc members and by reports of their involvement in financial or political corruption.