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Once Hated by U.S. and Tied to Iran, Is Sadr Now ‘Face of Reform’ in Iraq?

Mr. Sadr called his militia back to the front lines, but this time as a partner of the diverse Iraqi security forces and the American-led coalition fighting the extremists.

He also turned his attention to a small protest movement organized by leftists and secularists in the capital. The demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Baghdad were on behalf of civil servants and pensioners, and against growing economic inequality and the lack of essentials like electricity and health care.

The protesters were mostly ignored by Iraq’s political establishment, but Mr. Sadr viewed their demands as an echo of the plaintive calls of his own base for better jobs and government services. So he looked to build relationships with these groups, despite their diametrically different worldviews.

Once Hated by U.S. and Tied to Iran, Is Sadr Now ‘Face of Reform’ in Iraq?
Once Hated by U.S. and Tied to Iran, Is Sadr Now ‘Face of Reform’ in Iraq?

Mr. Sadr’s closest aide, Dhia’a Assadi, called the overtures sincere and logical. “His eminence has always been a voice for the poor,” Mr. Assadi said. “He saw that it was to the benefit for all Iraqis for those who share principles to come together.”

For the last two years, supporters of Mr. Sadr have banded together with communists, intellectuals and community activists in protest rallies, efforts that have built mutual respect.

Last fall, the Communist Party leadership visited Mr. Sadr at his headquarters in Najaf, the home of Iraq’s clerical establishment. Mr. Fahmi, one of the Communist leaders, said several of his comrades were initially cool to the idea of joining forces with someone perceived to have so much blood on his hands.

In the end, most members accepted that if radical political change was going to work in Iraq, it needed a popular leader to bring the masses on board.

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