First Published: 2014-02-17

Sadr political exit leaves door wide open for Maliki
Analysts say one of main beneficiaries from Sadr’s exit could be Maliki, Shiite PM whom Sadr has criticised as dictator.
Middle East Online

By W.G. Dunlop – BAGHDAD

How will Maliki lure Sadr supporters?

Powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's announced exit from politics two months before elections may be a "gift" to rivals but could also be another temporary withdrawal, experts say.

Sadr's political career began with his fierce opposition to the presence of foreign troops in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion, and has spanned more than a decade.

His rise, aided by the reputations of two famed relatives -- including his father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr -- who were killed during Saddam Hussein's rule, eventually translated into political clout.

At the time of his weekend announcement, Sadr's movement held six cabinet posts, the deputy speakership of parliament and 40 seats in the legislature.

"I announce my non-intervention in all political affairs and that there is no bloc that represents us from now on, nor any position inside or outside the government nor parliament," Sadr said in a statement.

His exit so close to parliamentary elections in April may "benefit other (Shiite) parties," said Aziz Jabr, a political science professor at Baghdad's Mustansiriyah University.

One of the main beneficiaries could be Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite whom Sadr has criticised as a "dictator," he said.

Maliki "got rid of him without making a major effort, and it is like a gift," said Jabr.

Kirk Sowell an Amman-based political risk analyst and the publisher of Inside Iraqi Politics, said that if Sadr's bloc loses votes in April, they may go to the Shiite Fadhila party and Maliki.

"Almost all of Sadr's gain in 2010 came at Fadhila's expense. Maliki could also benefit since their bases overlap quite a bit," Sowell said.

Sadr was the commander of the Mahdi Army, a widely-feared militia that battled US forces and played a key role in the brutal Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict in which thousands of people were killed.

He later suspended the militia's activities.

In recent years, his focus has increasingly shifted to religious studies in both Iran and Iraq that have taken him out of the country for extended periods of time.

Some commentators said there were potential downsides to his exit for Iraq, including political writer Sarmad al-Taie, who said the cleric has become a "supporter of the path of political reform, and worked to reduce sectarian tensions."

It was not immediately clear whether Sadr's withdrawal was temporary or permanent, and he has left politics previously only to resurface later on.

Sadrist officials were unable to offer explanations for what they said was a surprise announcement, that has left some wondering if Sadr will still make a political comeback.

Sadr "usually backs out of the political limelight when he is physically threatened" or "when the Sadrist movement has to do something politically expedient that Sadr wants to disassociate from," said Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Of Sadr's possible return, Knights said: "Nothing is permanent in Iraq except death."

But Sadr's decision to quit politics this time has a more final air than past announcements.

"He had a period when he was in Iran unofficially out of politics a few years ago, then last fall he had his 'self-isolation' from politics that lasted just a few weeks," Sowell said.

"All these actions have been aimed at trying to give himself a greater degree of religious authority," he said.

But Sadrist MPs announcing their resignations "makes this appear more serious" than past departures, said Sowell.

Sadr has also ordered the closure of his movement's political offices but said that others related to social welfare, media and education will remain open.

 

US warplanes carry out first strikes on IS near Baghdad

Erdogan: Turkey would welcome exiled Brotherhood leaders

UN brokers Israeli-Palestinian deal on Gaza reconstruction

Qaeda branches urge jihadists to unite against US

Scottish independence campaigners find support in Palestinian bagpipers

Iraq parliament votes down PM's security nominees

Despite war, South Sudan replaces foreign workers with locals

IS jihadists shoot down Syria warplane

Renegade former general claims air raid on Libya militia position

Six Egypt policemen in Sinai bomb attack

UEFA urged not to award 2020 European Championship to Israel

Israel sees future war with Hezbollah

Germany tries first 'Islamic State jihadist'

Egypt court bails top 2011 revolt activist

Iran rejected US request to cooperate against IS

Iran ridicules anti-jihadist international conference

Egypt textile factory collapse kills six

Mali separatists agree to speak with one voice

Qatar starts to curb Brotherhood’s activities

Coalition meets in Paris to plan fight against IS

Around 930 French citizens or residents involved 'in jihad' in Iraq, Syria

Yemen rebels, officials to meet with UN to end standoff

Qatar-based Egypt's Brotherhood leaders to relocate

Cameron chairs emergency meeting over British hostage beheading

Hollande defends arming Kurds against IS

43 Israeli soldiers condemn 'abuses' of Palestinians

Egypt urged to free more than 20 demonstrators

Turkey’s internet censored further

Tunisia Islamists clash with police in protest

10 Arab states agree to 'share' US-led fight against IS

Obama awaits Congress approval of Syria rebel aid

Hollande in Iraq to back new government

Lebanon to set up refugee camps along border with Syria

Russia slams unilateral US airstrikes on jihadists in Syria

Four Qaeda suspects in Yemen drone attack

Meshaal: Hamas may hold direct talk with Israel

UN Syria envoy says world must confront terrorist groups

Turkey refuses to allow US-led coalition to hit IS from its air bases

Yemen president, Shiite rebels reach deal

EU warns Gaza violence could re-ignite within 'months'

Thani denies UAE, Egypt conducted air strikes in Libya

Obama: We will destroy ISIL in Syria and Iraq

Beirut urges 'common front' against IS 'monsters'

Obama to steel Americans for long battle against IS

Turkish prosecutor demands life sentences for protesting soccer fans