By Ranj Alaaldin, a Middle East political and security risk analyst based at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He visits the Middle East regularly and as part of his recent work on Iraq has visited the country on a number of fact-finding missions. Foreign Policy magazine recently listed him among its 100 best Twitter users in international affairs. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
The Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, commander of the Mahdi Army militia responsible for the killing and wounding of thousands of US and UK personnel, Iraqi state forces, rival militias and civilians, has returned to Iraq having spent at least three-years of self-imposed exile in Iran, where he has pursued religious studies.
His return, not necessarily the first since he left in 2007 but certainly the first to be made public, is arguably telling of the changing dynamics of the Iraqi political arena and indeed of the Sadrist movement itself.
The Sadrists won nearly forty seats in last year’s parliamentary elections. With seven ministries to his bloc’s name and the deputy-speaker of parliament post, as well as a collection of governorships in the south of the country, al-Sadr’s return may have also been part of this package of concessions offered to him by arch-enemy Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in return for his backing of Maliki as premier. This is since the cleric still has an outstanding arrest warrant against him for the murder of Sayyid Abdul-Majid Khoei in 2003, one of Iraq’s leading Shia clerics backed by both the US and UK.
That warrant may soon be revoked and al-Sadr’s return, if permanent, is likely to be part of a long-term strategy to embolden his bloc and its orbit of influence in the country.