The Sadrist movement and the elections

Oct 20, 2021 2 min read

Muqtada is often playfully ridiculed, not taken seriously and seen as immature by some Iraqis. Memes on Muqtada al Sadr and his followers are scattered all over the internet.. Yet within this ridiculusation there always has been a discomfort regarding his most ardent believers - often defined by classist assumptions about the overtly religious uneducated Shia slum dweller. What is often forgotten is that the Sadrist movement has become a group with serious organizational capacity, that not only hosts an armed wing but also an army of volunteers, economic enterprises, charities, media branches and educational facilities. Additionally, the Sadrist movement also has a specific religious interpretation, tradition and corpus regarding esoteric teachings about the return of the 12th Imam, giving a religious dimension to this movement that ties some of its followers to the Sadrist movement.

Contrast to the often-made claim that the Sadrist movement represents the Iraqi Shia poor, in reality it represents a class coalition of wealthy Sadr businessmen, bureaucrats,Islamic scholars, a Sadrist middle class and his poorest followers. This wide spectrum of backers also reflects the constant switching of  contradictory political statements by Muqtada al Sadr. While the Sadrist movement is a group that pertains to be anti-hegemonic it simultaneously benefited from the post-2003 order and attempted to shape it to its interests. Its legacy of anti-imperialism should be commended as do its martyrs, including the lives they gave to fight ISIS. However, the political behavior of the Sadrist movement after 2017 can be best seen as an attempt to depoliticize Iraq’s problems and its relation to Saudi geopolitics, American imperialism and global political economy. The Sadrist movement was claiming to be merely for a strong and independent state, supporting technocratic solutions over political solutions and claiming that many of Iraq’s problems stem from “corruption”. This shifted the political discourse away from Iraq's fundamental problem namely American imperialism and its regional reproductions and its economic-political implications. Daesh was no longer seen as an organized effort to assault Iraq but a product of bureaucratic corruption.

Without a doubt however, the Sadrist movement wanted to be the movement that represents Iraq and the Shia of Iraq. Such a status is mainly challenged by the popular mobilization forces (PMF) and Sistani’s fatwa, both of which the Sadrist movement has strained relations with. After all the lives that the PMF sacrificed and the popular legitimacy it enjoys among the Iraqi population, not giving this group political representation will be seen as a direct insult to its supporters. If the Sadrist movement wants to keep its credibility, the demand for the expulsion of the US forces should be core to any policy that is to come. Therefore, the Sadrist aspirations of a future without the PMF will be an Iraq doomed to fail.

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