Leader of the Sadrist movement, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, is seeking to seize control of the transitional period in Iraq to end the “current political equation”, but he may also be speeding up the eruption of a confrontation on the ground with the rival pro-Iran Coordination Framework.
Hundreds of Sadr’s supporters stormed Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and embassies, for the second time in 72 hours on Saturday, protesting government formation efforts led by the Framework.
They were accompanied by political officials from the Sadrist movement.
Sources close to Sadr said the supporters are intent on holding a sit-in and that they were prepared to stay in the area for a long time.
Some of the protesters headed towards the headquarters of the Supreme Judicial Council. Capturing the council would allow Sadr to control the transitional phase as the cleric blames head of the judiciary, Faiq Zidan, for impeding his efforts to form a majority government.
Sources close to Sadr revealed that the dissolution of the council was a main demand.
Such escalation renders the protest movement more akin to a coup against the current balance of power in Iraq, and an attempt to seize power and impose radical changes.
It is unlikely that the Sadrists will stop their actions before Sadr achieves his main goals, namely suspending the constitution, forming a government that excludes figures the cleric deems corrupt and dismissing Zidan.
The past two days have made clear the Sadrists’ aims.
Sadr is embarking on a dangerous road given the balance of power in Iraq that is based on various intersecting interests. Success in overcoming the obstacles will be tantamount to a coup that would redraw the Shiite scene in Iraq where Sadr will be on top.
The cleric is likely to gain support from political and popular forces that have failed to find a solution to the political deadlock that emerged in wake of the October 2021 parliamentary elections.
Sadr’s success obviously, also hinges on how the Framework and pro-Iran armed factions will react to his moves.
As it stands, the Framework is completely incapable of forming a new government that can withstand pressure from Sadr. Moreover, its efforts to outwit Sadr with various prime minister nominees have failed as demonstrated by the Sadrists’ protests.
All this shows that Sadr wants a government that will not be formed by the Framework.
Given the standoff, the Framework may pave the way for the armed factions to wage an open battle with Sadr, sparking an open-ended inter-Shiite conflict.
Some members of the Framework are ready to escalate the situation against Sadr, even if it meant taking up arms against him, because they believe his agenda ultimately targets their own growing financial and military influence in Iraq.
However, the decision to take up arms against Sadr lies in Iran, which is being confronted with a pivotal moment in Iraq.
It has a central role to play in whether it really wants its allies to openly challenge Sadr and wage armed battles with him in central and southern Iraq. However, the ease with which the Sadrists were able to enter the Green Zone and parliament may give it moment to pause.