Muqtada al-Sadr’s political aspirations grew from a peculiar alliance that he forged by cooperating with the Sunni key leaders and the Barzani clan. However, his grand political project has suffered serious setbacks as a growing schism has developed within this fragile, albeit still standing, alliance.
Nonetheless, the question of what factors sparked the widening rifts still has to be answered.
The politicians who are critical of al-Sadr’s chaotic and populist character believe that he has special importance for his political alliance with the key representatives of the Iraqi Sunni community—including the current Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Muhammad al-Halbousi, and Khamis al-Khanjar [the head of the al-Siyadah Sunni coalition]—and on the other hand, he is striving to maintain his positive ties with the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani.
The prevailing analysis before the storming of the Iraqi Parliament by al-Sadr’s incensed supporters was based on the hypothesis that Muqtada intends to win the inevitable duel against the “Shiite Coordination Framework” (SCF), an umbrella bloc of Iraqi Shiite parties primarily united by their deep-rooted disagreements with the Sadrist Movement, with the support of his Kurdish and Sunni allies. However, the recent developments revealed that Muqtada’s political manoeuvres have damaged his ties with al-Halbousi.
Al-Halbousi released a scathing statement vehemently condemning the massive rally held by the al-Sadr Movement in front of the Iraqi judiciary. In addition, the Kurds, in particular Barzani, who, apart from Hoshyar Zebari, are the main beneficiaries of the present constitutional imbroglio in Iraq, also adopted a negative reaction to the pro-al-Sadr gathering. Faced by embarrassing backlash from his political partners, prompting Muqtada to immediately end the gathering of his zealot supporters, but to vindicate his contentious political move, the firebrand cleric published statements criticising his current partners, including al-Halbousi.
In the meantime, the KDP and the al-Siyadah coalition have announced that they will not participate in the upcoming meeting of the Iraqi National Dialogue presided by the caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, which originally germinated from the initiative put forth by Ms Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert [United Nations representative in Iraq]. Regardless of these minor political chicaneries, confronted by tough economic times and a lingering and hostile political standoff, the majority of Iraqi political currents are in favour of Ms Plasschaert’s initiative—which may be the only way out of the country’s disastrous political impasse—, except for al-Sadr’s Movement, which is constantly sabotaging its implementation.
Obviously, by analysing Iraq’s current political landscape, it cannot be claimed that al-Kadhimi has separated himself from al-Sadr or that Barzani or al-Halbousi have severed their rations with the ambitious Shiite cleric, but recent events prove that tensions within the trilateral coalition of al-Sadr, Barzani, and al-Halbousi have dramatically escalated, deemed a major game-changer.
At the same time, the recent 72-hour deadline set by Muqtada, in which he demanded the non-participation of all parties and politicians in the next elections, who have been engaged in the political process since 2003, including Sadrists.
Al-Sadr’s strategy implies the total fragmentation of Iraq’s political class and is a prelude to the collapse of partnership amongst the political parties that al-Sadr seeks to lead.
In fact, from Muqtada’s ominous perspective, Iraqi society and its hungry and destitute masses are fulminating with rage and scorn against the ruling political elite, and if basic social and economic services and the formation of a real political revolution do not happen, the nation’s simmering anger will sooner or later lead to a cataclysmic societal collapse.
Even some of Sadr’s detractors, such as Baqir Al-Hakim, accept al-Sadr’s assessments that before the apocalyptic social meltdown, Iraq’s political ruling class has only one to two years to make radical changes to save the country from the looming socio-economic deluge.
The limbo in which al-Sadr finds himself is that considering the unknown future that he envisages for himself, he is relentlessly struggling to convince the Iraqi public that he is merely a social reformer and, like other Iraqi politicians, is not tainted by embezzlement, fraud, and financial malfeasance or whimsical abuse of power.
But at the same time, al-Sadr has to engage with the very corrupt and inefficient class to achieve his purported goals, which will eventually cause rifts between him and his allies, such as Mohamed a-Halbousi.
Another predicament that Muqtada has to contend with is that he views the power struggle with the SCF as an existential battle. This means that if the SCF forms the future government, with the cooperation of the Iraqi judiciary and the support of the parliamentary majority, it will eliminate the Sadrist Movement from the Iraqi political realm. The SCF also has similar concerns over future developments. Lastly, it must be noted that if the Sadrist Movement fails to form the next government, the political situation in Iraq will be exceedingly more volatile than it is today, and this would likely lead to the collapse of a part of the SCF and, more broadly, the entire Iraqi political system.