Joel Wing commentary / analysis of Sadrist "schizophrenic" actions; method in madness
Iraqís Sadrists Back Off Attacks Upon Prime Minister Maliki For Now
By Joel Wing*
In the last two months, Moqtada al-Sadr emerged as one of the strongest critics of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He called the premier a dictator, and demanded a no confidence vote against him. At the end of June into July however, Sadr seemingly backed off in his attacks, and now appears to be working with Maliki. That could have been the result of Iranian pressure, which came down hard upon Sadr to reconcile with the prime minister. Even without that outside influence, the Sadrists have been playing a political game coming out against the premier rhetorically, while taking no substantive actions against him. This is all part of a strategy to position the Sadr Trend for the 2013 provincial and 2014 parliamentary elections where it hopes to either unseat Maliki or gain greater concessions from him in return for their support for a new ruling coalition.
In recent weeks Moqtada al-Sadr has backed down from his attacks upon Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. On July 1, 2012, Sadr answered a question from one of his followers by saying that questioning Maliki or carrying out a no confidence vote against him could harm Iraqís developing political system. The week before, the head of the Sadr bloc in parliament said that it would not participate in any questioning of the premier before lawmakers. That would be the first step in a no confidence move by the legislature, and is being pushed by the Kurdish Coalition and the Iraqi National Movement. Previously, the Sadrists had joined them on three committees to come up with questions for Maliki. At the same time, the movement said that any interrogation of the prime minister should only be aimed at reforming the government. Sadrists have also talked about a national conference to resolve the countryís political disputes, the same thing Maliki has been calling for. Finally, Sadr lawmakers joined a reform committee created by the National Alliance that includes members of the premierís State of Law that is also supposed to resolve the current crisis. All of these statements were the latest reversals by the Sadr movement. Beforehand, Sadr held a press conference where he criticized Maliki for not providing services, and said he was determined to unseat him. Before that, he said that withdrawing confidence from the prime minister would be carrying out Godís will, compared Malikiís statements to those of Saddam Hussein, and warned that he could be becoming a dictator. These followed a series of other critical words by Sadr and his followers. Now suddenly the movement is willing to work with Maliki, and condemning moves that Moqtada previously supported. This has been a trend that Sadr has been following for months now. Sometimes he is Malikiís greatest critic, while at others he stands by the prime minister. The fact of the matter is that Sadr was never seriously for removing Maliki at this time as a member of the Kurdish Coalition recently pointed out.
Iranian pressure has often been pointed to as a possible cause for Sadrís change in position, but that overlooks important facts. Iraqís ambassador to Iraq has been pushing Sadr and other Iraqi parties to end their arguments. The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guardsí Qods Force General Qasim Suleimani and Iranís supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were said to be in talks with Sadr. Sadrís former teacher, and spiritual leader of the movement, Ayatollah Kadhem al-Hussein al-Haeri who is based in Iran sent a message to Sadr saying that he shouldnít split the Shiite parties by going after Maliki. Haeri then issued a fatwa meant to pressure Sadr to back off his no confidence drive. Sadr was then called to Tehran at the beginning of June, where Iranian officials pushed him to give Maliki a two-month reprieve to work out his differences with his opponents. Iran is concerned about the political crisis in Iraq, because it does not want instability on its doorstep. Thatís especially true now, because it is dealing with the chaos in Syria, which threatens one of its closest allies in the region. It has therefore been pressing parties like the Sadrists to come to some sort of resolution to their differences. Tehranís influence is limited in this matter however. Despite Iranís efforts, Sadr has maintained his back and forth stance towards Maliki, and will likely continue with it into the foreseeable future. Thatís because Sadr is thinking about his political future, and that outweighs the concerns of Tehran.
For months now, the Sadr Trend has been following a two-track policy towards Prime Minister Maliki. On the one hand, it has issued a number of increasingly critical statements condemning the premierís actions, and talked about removing him from office. At the same time, it has not done anything substantive against him, and made a number of supportive comments as well. The real goal behind this strategy is establishing its independence from Maliki in preparation for the 2013 provincial elections and the 2014 parliamentary vote. Representatives of the Sadr movement relayed this plan to Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group during a recent trip to Baghdad. The movement has publicly stated that it does not want Maliki to return for a third term. If he were out of the way, that would open the door to the Sadrists perhaps emerging as the preeminent Shiite party. If not, they could use their critique to gain more concessions from the premier when a new government is put together. Already, in 2005 and 2010 the Sadr list was critical in Maliki coming to power. After the latest election, they were able to turn their position as kingmaker into gaining the most ministries in the new cabinet, and the release of their followers from prison. That could easily happen again in 2014. This is the reason why Sadr and his followers have seemingly acted so schizophrenically in recent months. They do not want to see Maliki out now, but they want to weaken him before the next round of balloting in an attempt to surpass him. That will mean more rhetorical attacks and then backtracking by the movement, but itís all according to their plan.
*With an MA in International Relations, Joel Wing has been researching and writing about Iraq since 2002. His acclaimed blog, Musings on Iraq, is currently listed by the New York Times and the World Politics Review. In addition, Mr. Wingís work has been cited by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Guardian and the Washington Independent. http://www.aknews.com/en/aknews/8/315610/
Thank you for this post as it makes such good sense. It is difficult to access the chaotic, illogical behavior, as it appears to us, without knowing the background. The explanations of the elections in 2013 and 2014 and toppling Maliki at that point, after weakening him, seems correct.
I will have one less hair I need to pull out of my head this week. Thanks!