As the January provincial elections near the Sadrists have announced that they support two lists of independents. A spokesman said that the Sadrist Trend stands by the Blameless and Reconstruction List, No. 376, and the Independent Trend of the Noble Ones, No. 284. Both parties appear in the south, while the Independent Trend is also running in Ninewa and Diyala. The Resalyoon bloc that participated in the 2005 elections, although not officially part of the movement, is also loyal to Sadr, with its leader re-affirming his allegiance in December 2008. They are running in Maysan, Najaf, Babil, and Diyala. Some from the Sadr Trend have also gone to former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s National Reform Party. In June 2008, Jaafari broke away from the Dawa Party and formed his own. There is also the Fadhila Party formed by Mohammed al-Yacoubi in July 2003 who claimed he should take over from Sadeq al-Sadr, Moqtada’s father, after the U.S. invasion. Fadhila is largely based in Basra. The Sadr al-Iraq party in that province might also be pro-Sadr.
The Sadrists are not running on their own as a result of the crackdown Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched against them in 2008. In April Maliki said that Sadr had to disband the Mahdi Army or they would be barred from politics, while the Political Council for National Security warned they would not be able to participate in the elections if the movement didn’t disarm. The Iraqi cabinet went on to draft a law to ban political parties that had their own militias from the provincial voting. As a result, Sadr announced that he was breaking up his militia in June, and forming a new social, religious and educational group called Momahidoun, Those Who Pave The Way, in August. During this time, Sadr also said that his followers would not run as a party in the upcoming elections, but would support independents instead.
Up until now, the movement has been largely silent on their exact position with regards to the vote. Recently however, Sadr spokesmen have begun stressing that they need to do well in the election to show the strength of their movement after the government’s offensives against them. One said they expect to maintain control of Maysan, and hope to win up to one-third of the seats in the nine southern provinces. They are hoping that will not allow the Supreme Council and the Dawa to monopolize power. If they have a poor showing, especially in Maysan, it would be a major setback. They are preparing for that possibility, by complaining that the major Shiite parties are trying to keep them out of the vote through their control of government agencies and the security forces.
As reported before, the Sadr movement is in disarray. The Surge and Maliki’s moves have cost Sadr thousands of fighters and commanders. His movement is still under pressure as government forces arrested the Baghdad head of the Momahidoun in December 2008. Tehran has peeled off large numbers of his militia into Special Groups. His control of violence was always one key to his power, but now that is gone. Sadr doesn’t have any say in political decisions either as he withdrew his ministers in 2007, while his parliamentarians are part of the divided opposition. With the sectarian war over there is no need for Shiites to turn to them for protection, and some have grown resentful of their criminal activities, leading to a lessoning of popular support. Rival parties now consider his followers up for grabs. Sadr himself has been off in Iran undergoing religious training for over a year and does not have day-to-day control of his movement. This has caused increasing divisions within the Sadrists that have led to the assassinations of two moderates in 2008. The Prime Minister has also been able to appropriate many of Sadr’s political stances having successfully passed the Status of Forces Agreement which sets a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal, championed Iraqi nationalism, and Baghdad’s authority over the country.
Moqtada al-Sadr has increasingly lost control of his own movement, and has tried over and over to re-organize it and re-claim his leadership. U.S. and government crackdowns along with the lessening need for Mahdi Army protection and anger against them have also cost them followers. The 2009 elections are definitely going to be a bell weather moment for them, especially if they do poorly. If nothing else though, Moqtada al-Sadr has proven to be a survivor, so one could expect him to still be on the Iraqi scene after the ballots are cast.
Associated Press, “Al-Sadr’s Followers Eye Comeback in Jan. 31 Vote,” 1/20/09
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