Popular Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, declared on Monday that he had withdrawn from political life completely, closing down most of his party’s offices. Soon after Sadr supporters stormed Iraqi government buildings and fears have grown of a large-scale violent conflict erupting.
The Joint Operations Command of the Iraqi security forces announced a 15:30 curfew in Baghdad this Monday, in response to the storming of a number of Iraqi Government buildings in the Iraqi Capital’s ‘green zone’ area. Thousands of supporters of Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, stormed the green zone, pulling down cement beams that barricade the area and entering the buildings, such as Iraq’s Republican Palace, with little-to-no resistance from Iraqi forces.
The curfew that was imposed came in response to fears of violence in the streets of Baghdad, that could lead to a further escalation of tensions that have gone on for almost a year. The recent tensions stem from Iraq’s election results in October of 2021, when Moqtada al-Sadr’s party managed to secure the largest amount of seats in the Iraqi parliament. Despite only 36% of eligible voters bothering to even show up, the powerful Shia cleric, Sadr, then had the ability to claim he represented a majority group in Iraq. On the contrary, the parties aligned with the PMU, despite not winning anywhere near the number of seats in parliament, beat the Sadrists in the popular vote.
In June, all of Moqtada al-Sadr’s party members, 73 MP’s in total, withdrew from the parliament after being unable to form a government, elect a Prime Minister, and President. The reason why the Sadrists were unable to form a government was clear, they refused to ally with any of the parties belonging to the pro-Iran armed groups that form the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU). Moqtada al-Sadr’s intentions were clear when he pulled this stunt in June, he was attempting to pressure the Iraqi parliament and governing forces to bend to his demands. In July, Sadr’s men, a large portion of whom are allegedly on a direct payroll, stormed the Iraqi parliament on a number of occasions, protesting the Iraqi parliament’s nomination of a candidate for Prime Minister that Sadr did not approve of.
Western media attempted to present Moqtada al-Sadr’s loyalists as representing a popular anger with Iraq’s corrupt elites and failed political system, but the reality is quite the opposite. Sadr, despite trying to paint himself as a reformed Iraqi nationalist, is attempting to assert his dominance and gain control of Iraq through man power and not democratic means. He routinely speaks about the corruption of the political elite and how foreign powers like Iran and the US must have less influence in the country. Sadr even attempts to raise the banner of democracy and respecting Iraq’s institutions, yet his actions say the complete opposite.
Despite the curfew that was put in place this Monday, first applied only in Baghdad and later in all the Iraqi Governorates, the Sadr loyalists continued to demonstrate inside the green zone and only left after being instructed to do so. Whilst the takeover of Iraq’s Government buildings was ongoing, Al-Mayadeen-TV reported that fake websites were created calling for violent action to be taken — links to the websites were later shared by bots on social media. The Al-Mayadeen reports stated that the websites were created outside of Iraq, without stating any specific countries of origin. Fake reports were also spread, through the reporting of a number of Arab speaking news networks, about the Iraqi security forces shutting down religious shrines and attempts to incite further tensions.
It has been apparent from before the Iraqi elections even took place, last year, that the think-tanks in Washington have been favoring Moqtada al-Sadr to take over Iraq. The reasons they publicly give are that he is the most pragmatic figure and best option for Iraq, “a vote for change”, as some put it. The reality, however, is that Moqtada al-Sadr is running on an anti-Iran platform. For the United States Government, they understand that there is not going to be a complete US lapdog in power Iraq, and they realize that there is no justification for a heavier US presence on the ground. This being the case, the best option available is someone that isn’t going to directly work on behalf of the US necessarily, but will do their bidding by proxy. The top priority for Washington is simple, curb Tehran’s influence in Iraq.
Sadr, whilst he is certainly not pro-Washington, is anti-Iran and vows to stop the influence of Tehran inside Iraq. This is why the US likes Moqtada al-Sadr, he is a popular cleric with a massive support base, who controls a powerful militia force. Sadr once used his militia men to fight the US occupation forces, in addition to domestic foes. However, times have changed, and there’s nothing the US Government loves more than a strongman who knows how to get the job done.
Whilst the evidence for a US role in the current political strife in Iraq is certainly not ironclad, what can be said is that it favors the US. Even if Iraq descends into civil war, this is a good thing for the Biden administration — this means more troubles for Iran. The official position of the State Department on this issue, is that they favor dialogue to end the political quarrels and that they have not given an evacuation order, as some reports indicated, which had shown videos of helicopters transporting US citizens out of the American embassy in Baghdad.
As of now the situation remains tense, with most Iraqis fearing that armed clashes between Sadr-loyalists and pro-Iranian groups could erupt at any moment. Since the illegal invasion of 2003, the US Government has been telling the world that its mission has been to make Iraq a better place to live in for its citizens, it’s now 2022 and the “democracy” that the US created there is on the verge of causing a civil war. Not only this, but the leading Western think-tank’s and corporate news outlets seem to be in favor of a warlord, turned Iranian protege, turned anti-Iran political leader, who wants to ignore the democratic institutions of his own country in the name of “democracy”.