By John Lee.
Iraqi political analyst Ali Ameer has told Reuters that radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's retirement from politics will boost Prime Minister Maliki in the forthcoming April general elections.
"Sadr's decision will definitely play into the hands of Maliki one way or the other," said Ameer, echoing the thoughts of other analysts. Sadr, who previously led uprisings against coalition forces and the Iraqi government as well as threatening the US diplomatic presence, commands roughly one eighth of the seats in Iraqi parliament through his Ahrar Bloc.
Following fierce rivalry with Maliki, Sadr backed the Prime Minister during the 2010 government formation, allegedly doing so under pressure from Iran. The cleric announced his retirement from politics on a handwritten statement on his website, but gave no reason for the dramatic exit.
Analysts have noted this is not the first time Sadr has announced he is taking a break from politics, and in the past he has cited the pursuit of religious studies as a reason to leave, only to return to the political scene. But the language of his recent statement suggests he is more serious about the move this time, as he noted:
"I announce my non-interference from the political affairs in general, and there is no bloc representing us anymore, outside or inside of the government, or in parliament. Everyone who infringes upon this will be exposed to religious and legal responsibility."
Sadr's announcement that he is continuing charitable organisations suggests this move does not signify the end of the Sadr movement.