The Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most influential political figures, recently instructed his party’s 75 parliamentarians to resign after six months of political gridlock during which he was unable to form a government. Most likely, writes Bobby Ghosh, the Sadrists will take the streets, while the Islamic Republic will expand its influence in Baghdad:
Protest, often violent, is Sadr’s stock in trade. Hailing from a family of Shiite clerics who paid for their opposition to Saddam Hussein with their lives, he made his own name in 2003 by raising a militia, known as the Mahdi Army, against the U.S.-led coalition that toppled the dictator. Sadr’s fighters were trounced, but his anti-American rhetoric never waned. More recently, he has cast himself as a nationalist, opposed to the malign influence of Shiite-majority Iran in Iraqi affairs.
The political churn in Baghdad will, at least in the short run, yield butter for Tehran. By Iraqi law, the parliamentary seats abandoned by Sadr have gone to the candidates who polled the second-largest number of votes. In most cases, those were candidates from Iran-backed parties. That bloc, known as the Coordination Framework, is now in the strongest position to form a coalition government.
This would mean the return to the premiership of Nouri al-Maliki, whose two previous terms in the job, from 2006-14 were characterized by an open license for Iran to deepen its influence in Iraqi affairs, especially in the country’s security forces. Tehran also backed a parallel network of Shiite militias, which it has used to attack U.S. military forces in Iraq and launch missile and drone strikes into Saudi Arabia.