Al-Sadr is part of the reason Iraq protests persist

Al-Sadr even lacks parliamentary legitimacy in that only a paltry 44.5% turnout at the last election gave him his seats.
Saturday 26/10/2019
Iraqi protestors take part in anti-government demonstrations in the central city of Najaf on October 25, 2019. (AFP)
Iraqi protestors take part in anti-government demonstrations in the central city of Najaf on October 25, 2019. (AFP)

Ever one to sense an opportunity for religious and political opportunism, radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has formally thrown his weight behind the largely Shia Arab protesters who have rocked Iraq’s streets since the beginning of October.

Parroting Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s rejection of the government crackdown, al-Sadr expressed dismay at the use of violence by security forces and called on demonstrators to take to the streets during the Arbaeen Shia remembrance of the death of the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, Hussein bin Ali.

As Hussein was seen as a political maverick and revolutionary in his own right, al-Sadr has called on the Shia faithful to follow in his example and sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

While that is all well and good and even encouraging to hear from clerics that Iraqis have the right to take to the streets to combat corruption, nepotism and the tyranny of the state, one is left wondering — where is al-Sadr in all this?

Can al-Sadr be seen, like Hussein whom he claims descent from, on the front lines leading the charge against the corrupt Iraqi regime? Has he used his considerable political influence and armed militia groups to secure the release of political prisoners and those who have been arrested and tortured on sectarian grounds?

Has al-Sadr, in all his divinely ordained wisdom, sought to attempt to topple the government he claims needs to be overhauled by simply withdrawing his parliamentary bloc, which controls the greatest number of seats?

The answer to all of this is a resounding “no.” Despite his rhetoric and religious pontification, populist discourse and pantomime politics, al-Sadr is part and parcel of the political process he is asking Iraqis to risk their lives against.

It is not as though the cause is not worth fighting for. Freedom from the yoke of Iranian control over Iraq’s sovereign affairs is a worthy goal that Iraqis have fought long and hard for and have recently lost more than 150 souls to.

Their death should not be in vain and neither should the damaged lives of thousands of Iraqis who were left maimed and wounded by Iran-backed Shia jihadist snipers simply because they were calling for change.

To have someone like al-Sadr call on Iraqis to spill their blood on the altar of his self-aggrandisement and to improve his political position is both sickening and galling.

Demonstrators have consistently called for an end to Iran’s interference in Iraq and, while al-Sadr is claiming he supports their legitimate concerns, it was only in September that he was photographed in Tehran paying homage to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was joined by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani during the Ashura commemoration.

No Sadrist has been able to explain how such an appearance demonstrates al-Sadr’s Iraqi “nationalist” credentials.

Al-Sadr is not an anti-establishment figure or even a political maverick, as he likes to portray. Al-Sadr is part of the establishment and he is symptomatic of the defunct political process that has been dominating Iraqi politics since the illegal US-led invasion of 2003.

He even lacks parliamentary legitimacy in that only a paltry 44.5% turnout at the last election gave him his seats and they were not even close to forming a majority.

Far from being a man of the people, al-Sadr is a man of the Iran-sponsored establishment and will do anything to maintain the status quo while improving his own position within it, the blood of innocent Iraqis being slaughtered by his masters’ proxies be damned.

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