Seth J. Frantzman
Security, Middle East
Fourteen years after his militias confronted the America in Sadr city, Muqtada al-Sadr is the kingmaker of Iraq.
In 2005 Muqtada al-Sadr got on the cover of Time Magazine for the first time. “Ready or Not,” the cover stated in anticipation of the January 30, 2005, National Assembly elections. Sadr was in the background. He was, after all, one of the most famous figures to emerge after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Today he is poised to be the key powerbroker behind the new government of Iraq after receiving the largest number of votes in the parliamentary elections.
Sadr was born in 1973 into a family of influential Shi’ite clerics in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf. Several of his family members, including his father, were murdered by the Saddam Hussein regime. After the preliminary election results were announced he visited his father’s grave in Najaf. He held his chin and seemed to ponder the future. On May 19 he met Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi and towered over the shorter Abadi at a press conference. Sadr wore his cleric’s robes, a black turban on his head, his beard was gray from age. He’s been holding court a lot lately. On May 18 he hosted the ambassadors of Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Kuwait. The Iranians were not present. Their interlocutor in Iraq, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, has been scrambling to put together a non-Sadr coalition. It turns out Sadr, the man who once kept the Americans up at night and was seen as leading Shi’ite populism against the United States, may now also bedevil the Iranians in their attempts to control Iraq after Islamic State has been defeated. In July 2017, Sadr flew to Saudi Arabia and met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah. It appears that he has been positioning Iraq for a new role in the region, one between the United States and Iran.