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

Sadr has been supporting efforts by embattled Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to form a Cabinet of ministers with technocratic and professional backgrounds and not beholden to political elites. Growing exasperated with Iraq's paralyzed political system, on April 20 Sadr suspended the activities of the al-Ahrar parliamentary bloc, with which he is associated as a spiritual leader.

Then, on April 30, Sadr's supporters, who had for weeks staged protests on Baghdad’s streets, stormed the parliament building in the city's fortified Green Zone, which houses state institutions as well as the US and British embassies and has become a symbol of the country’s political dysfunction. This unexpected action sent shock waves through Iraq. With the country in the midst of a bloody war against the Islamic State, many feared the move on parliament might lead to the collapse of the state structure.

Ever adept and calculating, Sadr acted to prevent the dramatic maneuver from spiraling out of control, pulling his supporters out of the Green Zone after a 24-hour sit-in. The message was clear: Sadr showed he is willing to take extraordinary measures and that he can hold the country’s center of power at his mercy. Many now wonder if Sadr’s intent is to dominate the country’s political landscape, rendering himself the one calling the shots. His supporters say that is not the goal.

“The Sadrist current does not seek hegemony,” Dhia al-Assadi, former chief of al-Ahrar bloc, told Al-Monitor. “If we sought hegemony, we would want a greater presence for ourselves in the Cabinet and other state institutions. … We are not trying to attain the office of prime minister.”

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