Tweets by Sadrist movement leader, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr aimed at disciplining unruly members of his movement differ than statements of reprimand issues by various Iraqi officials.
Sadr, whose Sairoon alliance holds the parliamentary majority, is the only figure who can mobilize the people on the street and change political equations with a single stance, whether in the form of a tweet or a brief statement.
Sadr, who refuses to have his name be dragged into political disputes, is the most adept player among figures who believe themselves to be skilled politicians, whether in the Shiite blocs or Sunni or Kurdish ones that seek to maintain balanced ties with the cleric and his movement.
On Monday, Sadr posted one of his shortest ever tweets: “Saving Iraq is a national duty.”
Sadr did not specify the way in which he wants to save Iraq, but those few words will preoccupy his avid supporters and his rivals alike. The tweet will be understood as a message that the duty of saving Iraq will be Sadr’s and everyone who follows him on his path.
In the past three months, ever since the launch of campaigns for next month’s elections, Sadr had flipped the political scene in Iraq on more than one occasion.
At first, he shocked everyone by announcing his withdrawal from the race. He was followed soon after by members of the Sadrist movement, with the exception of some allies from outside the group.
At the time, Sadr said he was pulling out of the elections “so that Iraq would not burn.”
His stance created confusion in Iraq with many forces weighing the possibility of postponing the elections – in spite of their outward support for holding them on time – because it was hard for them to imagine going through with them without the Sadrists.
Many parties sought to take the middle ground between Sadr, who enjoys a wide popular base, and his rivals, fearing the emergence of an imbalance in the political scene. Moreover, Sadr’s boycott of the elections may have major implications on the street that could in turn lead to the obstruction of the polls and even a Shiite-Shiite clash.
No sooner had Sadr announced his withdrawal from the polls that Shiite blocs started to envisage filling the void he would leave behind in central and southern provinces and Baghdad. Other blocs – Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish – went about persuading the cleric to renege on his decision.
Some two weeks of negotiations led to Sadr’s conditional return to the electoral race. The negotiating parties agreed to his conditions that were related to reform and amending the constitution.
No sooner had he returned to the scene, that his supporters started boasting that he will win a parliamentary majority and form a purely Sadrist government. With such announcements, his rivals had to again reassess their plans and prepare to wage a bitter electoral battle with the cleric and his popular base.
Sadr again upturned the scene by declaring two days ago that he does not want a Sadrist to assume the position of prime minister. This again forced political parties to reassess their positions and electoral calculations.
They began wondering whether Sadr will seriously relinquish the post or throw his support behind a certain figure, who will likely be current Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who already has the cleric’s backing.
If he does back Kadhimi, Sadr’s opponents will again have to reassess their positions because they perceive the premier as a common rival of all parties.
The cleric’s tweet on Monday will again force rivals to review their stances as they wait with baited breath for the elections.