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Iraq and the crisis of an uncertain destiny

Story Highlights
  • Al-Haeri's statement, and beyond Al-Sadr's retirement
  • Chaos after retirement to de-escalate and its implications
  • What's Next?

It was not surprising that the conflict of Shiite forces moved from the fields of politics to the battlefields, Rather, it was remarkable that the armed clash lasted only about 20 hours, thus what Iraq has witnessed since the announcement of the results of the early 2021 elections of an escalation in the pace of chaos and political and security tension had to be explicitly expressed in an open confrontation between these forces.

Certainly, this conflict is not the result of the moment, but rather the result of long changes and accumulations through the political process, which eventually led to the current political scene, a political system that is unable to reform itself and make fundamental changes, and a political conflict that turned into an armed one.

As soon as Muqtada Al-Sadr’s speech ended, the masses of the civil and armed movement began to withdraw within 60 minutes (as Al-Sadr had ordered), to stop the bloody hours witnessed in the Green Zone in central Baghdad (the most secure area in the capital, which includes government headquarters, embassies and the homes of many officials) to lead to street war which resulted in the killing of nearly 30 people and the wounding of 700, including 110 from the Iraqi security forces, these events raised many questions related to the future of civil peace after this dangerous armed development?

Al-Haeri’s statement, and beyond Al-Sadr’s retirement

With a statement that comes at a time that raises question marks, the Iraqi authority, Kazem Al-Haeri (the doctrinal reference of the Sadrist movement and recommended to be followed by Muhammad Sadiq Al-Sadr, Muqtada’s father) announced his retirement as a religious authority (the religious reference has never retired), attributing this to his health condition and recommending his followers to follow the Supreme Leader of the Iranian Revolution “Ali Khamenei,” and attacking Muqtada Al-Sadr explicitly describing him as a seeker to divide the people and the sect in the name of Al-Sadr (Muhammad Baqir) Al-Sadr, Muhammad Sadeq Al-Sadr), although he lacks Ijtihad or the other conditions required for legal leadership.

Although Muqtada Al-Sadr responded that Al-Hairi’s statement was not of his own free will or even his decision to retire, he announced his retirement from political work “permanently” and closed all the headquarters of the Sadrist movement.

The statements of the Ha’eri reference were often inclined to )velayat-e faqih( in Tehran, at a time when Al-Sadr was moving in the opposite direction from what the reference suggested, especially in the relationship with Iran, In other words, Al-Sadr’s decisions and political directions are in contrast to Al-Hairi, and this behavior is not limited to Al-Sadr. Rather, many Shiite political Islamic forces do what the current does, they followed Najaf publicly, but the implications of their actions on the ground indicate that they are following the Supreme Leader in Iran, but the importance of following Al-Hairi was only a doctrinal cover for the Sadrist movement as a religious and social current. The movement was attacked many times by Al-Haeri in most stances in which it needed support.

Therefore, Al-Sadr’s reaction to the reference’s statement raises a possibility, which is that Al-Sadr saw in al-Haeri’s statement as an appropriate opportunity to withdraw – which may also be temporary – from the political process and for several goals, one of which may be to avoid moral responsibility if the stances develop beyond from a peaceful protest, which actually occurred and what Al-Sadr expected, In addition to the inability of the Sadrist movement to convince the masses during their protest period in Parliament from outside the movement, specifically those affiliated with the Tishreen movement, to join the Sadrist movement in the hope that it would gain public momentum from other non-Sadrist spaces, which would give it more legitimacy, despite the fact that The Sadrist movement has widespread sympathy, but it has not been sufficiently reflected on the ground, In addition to this the main event that preceded the storming of Parliament, which was the failure to implement Al-Sadr’s project, which he calls a “national majority government,” which he promised his masses, after his rejection by the political forces on top of the coordination framework, reinforced by the Federal Court’s interpretation of what is known as the “blocking third.” which prevented the Sadrist movement from achieving the required quorum within the parliament.

What may support this possibility is that Al-Sadr often withdraws – and then retreat the decision to withdraw – at times when he wants to absolve the current of the failure of the political system of which – the movement – is a part and one of its outputs, not long ago, his decision to withdraw from the early 2021 elections, which many observers interpreted as an attempt to cover up the accusations against the Sadrist movement of its responsibility behind neglecting the electricity and health sectors, while promoting the possibility of obtaining 100 seats, which prompted the current to maneuver and temporarily withdraw from running in the elections and then return to them, winning 73 seats with a majority.

Chaos after retirement to de-escalate and its implications

Since July 30, Al-Sadr’s masses have headed to the Green Zone and stormed Parliament in demonstrations that the movement described as “spontaneous,” which caused the disruption of parliament’s work to choose the president of the republic and then elect “Muhammad Shiaa Al-Sudani,” the candidate for the (coordination framework) to form the new government, followed by several developments, the most important of which was the demonstration in front of the Federal Court, which the current hinted that it plays as a political party and not as a supreme judicial authority, this step provoked many parties, led by the judiciary, which announced the suspension of its work until the demonstrators withdrew from the sit-in in front of the Federal Court building, which is what happened after that, it was followed by Al-Sadr’s 72-hour impossible initiative, which even Al-Sadr’s allies in the “Save the Homeland” alliance reject, calling for a collective withdrawal of the traditional forces and provide the new and emerging forces the space to lead the next phase.

But al-Sadr’s announcement of his “final” retirement from politics was enough to erupt the scene after the demonstrators stormed the government palace and the domain of demonstration expanded, which led to the expected moment, which is armed confrontations between the security of the Popular Mobilization and the civilian demonstrators from the movement, then quickly developed to be between the security of the crowd and Saraya al-Salam (affiliated with the Sadrist movement), turning the Green Zone into an open battlefield that lasted for 17 hours.

There was conflicting information about the party that persuaded Al-Sadr to de-escalate and stop the armed confrontations, some of them indicated that the Najaf authority was the one who persuaded Al-Sadr to stop the violence in order to avoid bloodshed, and others indicate that Iran sent a strongly worded message to Muqtada Al-Sadr to withdraw his elements to prevent a Shiite-Shiite war, while some sources confirmed that the Lebanese Hezbollah, through Muhammad Kawtharani, who is responsible of the Iraqi file in the party, in a call he made with Al-Sadr, in which Hassan Nasrallah interfered, was able to convince Al-Sadr of the necessity of stopping the armed confrontations.

All the information is aimed at one objective, which is that the higher parties in the Shiite religious and political space lobbied on Al-Sadr and do not want the dispute to develop into more than a political one, However, the conflict of interests between the Shiite political parties and the transformation of the conflict from a struggle over identity representation to a struggle over power gains (and this is one of the important indicators that illustrate the state of fragmentation experienced by the forces of Shiite political Islam) made things move towards the scenario that these internal and external parties fear from, Thus, announcing the cessation of the state of violence without resolving the situation in favor of any party, and the continuation of the political crisis.

What the Sadrist movement probably wanted, through this confrontation, was to deliver a clear message that it is not possible to form a government and enter into any new future equation that overcomes the current project, meanwhile, the coordination framework wanted to convey its message that it is able to preserve the political system in its current form and gains, despite describing it – the political system – as calcified and unable to survive and should be overcome to another equation with new political forces, Probably one of the manifestations of this is that the coordination framework pretended to be “rational” and that the scene contained verbal and armed attacks on the head of the Sadrist movement, as occurred in Basra from clashes between Saraya al-Salam and Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq after the latter was accused of assassinating one of the leaders of the companies, However, Asa’ib – which is affiliated with the coordination framework – closed all its offices at the request of the Sadrist movement in its statement, which carried an offensive and threatening tone against Asaib and its leader, Qais Khazali.

It is remarkable that the coordination framework – which put the forces of hawks and doves in one basket – plays this role, after it had previously demonstrated through its masses over the election results that showed a significant decline in its popularity, and issued statements at the time warning that failure to respond to its demands will have repercussions on “civil peace”, in addition to what he was accused of being behind the assassination attempt on Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi.

Apparently, the coordinating framework needs today of de-escalation in order to preserve the current gains and not enter into a long conflict with the Sadrist movement, the results of which are zero, Thus the coordinating framework prepares for the next phase, whether by repeating the elections or proceeding with his vision in forming the government and remain on the current state of the political process.

What’s Next?

The Iraqi file has always been one of the most complicated issues in the region, and probably this stage is one of the most difficult to predict its future, but what we can talk about today is that the future does not indicate the existence of a radical solution to the differences of political forces in Iraq as much as any attempts of current truce may only be buying time and deporting the crisis.

It is not likely that Al-Sadr will continue with his decision to retire, as the reality of the movement today is in dire need of Muqtada Al-Sadr’s presence after what occurred in the Green Zone, and the scenes of civilian victims (Sadrists) who were shot by armed factions that confronted Al-Sadr’s armed faction. It is not certain that Al-Sadr’s orders to withdraw take the impression that he wanted to appear as “altruism to spare blood” as much as the Sadrists, especially the militants, might consider it a defeatist step unless the current achieved the gains that were supposed to be achieved, and this is a point worthy of attention; The Sadrist movement arose as an armed faction (the Mahdi Army), before turning into a political party, and at the time of the battle the armed wing emerges at the expense of the political wing.

The voting results of the current – despite its sweeping votes in the recent elections – indicate a decline in the number of votes, as it fell to 850 thousand votes in the 2021 elections, after it was 1.3 million votes in the 2018 elections. This may be due to the new Sadrist generation that was seduced by the national, cross-sectarian slogans of the October 2019 movement and resentment against all political forces, leaving behind affiliation with any other party, probably this transformation is natural for a generation that was not contemporary with Muhammad Sadiq Al-Sadr and was not aware of the role of the current at the moment of the American invasion and the fall of the capital, Baghdad in 2003.

These and other factors make the Sadrist movement, which tried through its positions and opinions to dissociate the coordination framework from within, vulnerable to disintegration, at least at the grassroots level, and put its future at stake as is the framework and the political process, therefore, it was necessary for the movement to announce, through the “minister of Al-Sadr,” that the will of Muqtada’s father by followed Al-Hairi ended with the latter’s resignation, which leaves the door open for al-Sadr’s return at any moment after the tradition of Al-Haeri’s reference was removed from his shoulders, and it is not difficult to follow another reference ordering Al-Sadr to return again to political action directly.

It seems that the fate of the next phase is linked to the decision of the Federal Court (which adopts the parallel constitution rather than the actual one in many of its decisions, which led to giving interpretations that target the spirit of the constitution, such as the interpretation of the “blocking third in Parliament” recently, and the failure to implement the parties’ law that prohibits the work of parties that have armed factions and wings) to dissolve parliament or not. This presents us with many scenarios related to the court’s decision, but the scenario that may be the most likely and safest for the political forces is the “dissolution of Parliament” and probably the only one that may lead to de-escalate, and this is related to the extent of the desire of actors on the external and internal levels to achieve a settlement and not to aggravate the situation further. What it is today, but this scenario also raises several questions related to the core of the current crisis between the framework and the current, the electoral law file and the destiny of the current commission, and the possibility of the coordination framework going with these steps alone in changing the law and changing the current commission, or by accepting an understanding with the Sadrist movement to agree on a solution formula, or to respond to Sadrist pressure by either accepting the decision of the Federal Court in the event that it leads to “dissolving Parliament” or dissolving Parliament itself.

Therefore, the challenge today lies in the extent of the ability to overcome the current phase by making political settlements and agreements, and this has always been witnessed by the political process, or the extent of the ability to transfer the crisis to the next government; the tension and the ongoing political conflict between these forces still exists, which necessarily means that a violent scenario is possible at any moment.

Politics and Society Institute

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