Muqtada's Political Revival


As some see Muqtada Al Sadr as both a political and militant proxy of Iran, his recent political revival may seem as though Iran sees to further expand its influence in Iraqi politics for strategic purposes. Yet seeing Sadr's recent political revival, his re-establishment of his former Jaish Al Mahdi, or The Mahdi Army, now renamed Saraya Al Salaam (The Peace Brigades), it seems as though his political motives now revolve around exposing the corruption of the Iraqi government and essentially demanding an increase of transparency. Having mobilized his supporters to protest the Iraqi parliament, this demonstrates the strength and relevance of his influence in the Iraqi political sphere even after going into exile and disbanding his previous militia. By criticizing Haidar Al Abadi's government, this consolidates Al Sadr's political power among his Shia supporters and even challenges the power of other Shia political and militant factions as well.

Although Muqtada Al Sadr may have great influence over his Shia constituents and allies, sectarian tensions may still potentially be reignited once again by that very same influence. After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Muqtada Al Sadr established what was then known as Jaish Al Mahdi, or The Mahdi Army, in an attempt to combat the US invasion and coalition forces. What was initially meant to be a group dispensing security to Shi'ite communities across Iraq drastically transformed into a sectarian death squad ethnically cleansing Baghdad and other cities of their Sunni inhabitants. This essentially accelerated the sectarian violence that would overshadow Iraq in the following years. Now that The Mahdi Army has been recreated and renamed to The Peace Brigades, it has been reported that Al Sadr is seeking to find a new approach in dealing with sectarianism. In one report according to Al Jazeera English, Muqtada Al Sadr is hoping to orchestrate a committee consisting of "secular, Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish intellectuals and academics entrusted with the task of suggesting government reforms". By appealing to the people and their discontent of the Iraqi government, Al Sadr will attempt to transcend above sectarian tensions and tend to the wounds of the economically marginalized or so it seems.

Reviving and rebranding The Mahdi Army as the Peace Brigades may have its newly intended implications, yet at the same time sectarian violence may be inevitable especially when taking the fight against ISIS into consideration. As Sunni rebel groups in Syria struggle against ISIS as well, creating a collaborative effort alongside Shi'ite militias would still be very unlikely considering the opposing interests all the different groups may ultimately have. With The Mahdi Army's history of sectarian violence, Sadr's current Peace Brigades may possibly evolve from what was meant to initially be a peace keeping force partaking in the fight against ISIS into a mercenary-like militia aimed at targeting those who differ politically and religiously, in essence a reincarnation of rogue elements of The Mahdi Army. Most recently in the winter of 2015 the Peace Brigades participated in the offensive against ISIS recapturing of the Jurf al-Sakhar region and began to secure the city of Samarra in the Salah Al Din province of Iraq. In the process Shii'te militias carried out attacks against Sunni civilians and Al Sadr decided to remove his newly formed militia from the fight for fear of accusations of sectarian violence. The militia still remains adamant, however, regarding its stance on resistance against what it deems as foreign aggressors. Whether or not this includes Iran as a foreign aggressor due to its creeping hegemony remains ambiguous.

Despite Al Sadr's skeptical criticisms of Iran and even renouncing its clerical and political influence in Iraq, his militia, like many other Shi'ite militias may possibly be receiving training from Iran. At the same time it may possibly be unlikely considering the Peace Brigades suspicions of foreign entities. The fight against ISIS has not solely been dependent upon Iraqi clerical and political mobilization efforts alone, rather those who have taken up the fight against the radical organization have indeed made a collaborative effort with Iran on both a political platform as well as clerical. So how can Al Sadr continue to resist Iranian political and clerical hegemony despite its overriding influence in Iraq? How can he continue to reject a strong Iranian regional presence while the fight against ISIS continues? With Sadr's current ambitions for the nation, this might mean distancing Iraq from Iranian influence and agency thus decolonizing Iraq of Iranian creeping hegemony.