Muqtada al-Sadr, the Most Powerful Man in Iraqi Politics?

By Mohammed A. Salih for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

In a dramatic shift, 13 years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, the once-ignorable Shiite cleric, has reinvented himself as the central figure in a chaotic push to reform the country’s broken political system. After Sadr’s supporters stormed Baghdad’s Green Zone late April, many wonder what his ultimate aim might be.

Sadr’s political initiation began in a remarkable fashion: when his supporters were accused of murdering Abdul Majid al-Khoei, a promising rival Shiite cleric, the day after Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled in April 2003. Loathed by US political and military officials and underestimated by Iraqi politicians returning from exile, Sadr was for years considered nothing more than a menace. The mainstream Western press often described him as a “firebrand” or “radical.”

Nevertheless, capitalizing on the spiritual legacy of his father and uncle, Mohammed Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr and Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, both senior Shiite clerics executed by Hussein, Muqtada’s political fortunes rose steadily, making himself an actor to be reckoned with. In April 2004, he led a major rebellion against the US-led coalition that he considered an occupation force.

Today, amid popular demand for change in Iraq, Sadr has put his political capital on the line in advocating an overhaul of the Iraqi political system. “Muqtada has clearly enhanced his status by adopting a populist, non-sectarian stance at a time when Iraqis are peculiarly conscious of the corrupt and dysfunctional nature of their government because there is not sufficient oil revenue to cover expenditure,” said Patrick Cockburn, a Middle East correspondent for the British Independent and author of the book “Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the Struggle for Iraq.”

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