Ben Robin-D'Cruz

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A supporter of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr lifts a placard depicting him during a a collective Friday prayer in Sadr City, east of Baghdad on 15 July 2022. Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images.

Following their shock victory in the 2021 elections, the Sadrists claimed they were poised to push Iraq towards a new type of politics. But after nine months of failing to form a government, their leader, populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has seemingly given up and withdrawn from the government formation process. Instead, he called for mass protests, sent his followers to invade and occupy parliament, and demanded another election. In response, his opponents, Nouri al-Maliki and the Iran-aligned Popular Mobilization Forces, sent loyalists to Baghdad’s Green Zone, risking conflict between the two heavily armed sides.

Although it is still unlikely this will lead to a Shia civil war, there are increasing concerns about the lengths Sadr is willing go to.…  Seguir leyendo »

Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf in October. Photo: Getty Images.

Following the US strike on Qassem Solaimani and Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has violently cracked down on youth-led protests in Iraq.

His paramilitaries and ‘blue hats’ –  supposedly created to protect protestors from state and allied parastatal security forces – sought to end the months-long demonstrations by attacking the places where protesters have camped since October. In Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, they successfully captured the famous Turkish restaurant which had become a symbol of Iraq’s ‘October revolution’.

Once the champion of Iraq’s protest movement, Sadr has seemingly changed course and now leads the counter-protests. This reversal has mystified many, from Iraqis who saw Sadr as an ally in their struggle for reform against an impenetrable elite to foreign diplomats who hoped Sadr could help pushback against Iranian influence in Iraq.…  Seguir leyendo »