The New York Times’ Anthony Shadid and the Washington Post’s Leila Fadel both have good articles detailing the impressive showing by Iraq’s Sadrist movement in the recent elections, with both projecting the Sadrists to take between 35-40 seats in the Iraqi parliament.
Though the movement has certainly had its ups and downs, it’s long been clear that the Sadrists are the most deeply-rooted political movement among Iraq’s Shiites — and probably in all of Iraq. Many Western journalists, looking at Iraq through the lens of the U.S.’s war there, tended to conflate the Sadrists with the Mahdi Army, the Sadrist militia, which was a real mistake. Drawing their support from Iraq’s Shia underclass, the Sadrists’ boast a popular base that has only been growing with the central government’s inability to deliver basic services and effectively clamp down on corruption, and with the continuing problem of internally displaced persons.
It’s always a bad idea to make solid predictions about the future of Iraqi politics, but I tend to agree with Spencer Ackerman that the stronger Sadrist presence “will almost certainly constrain Maliki from any impulse he might feel to renegotiate the SOFA,” and request the U.S. to delay its military drawdown. We should remember that Maliki’s adoption of a demand for a withdrawal timetable for the SOFA (which the Iraqis call the “withdrawal agreement”) represented an effective co-optation of one of the Sadrists’ key positions. Now they’ll have the opportunity to hold him to it.
As I wrote in my review of Patrick Cockburn’s book on Muqtada al-Sadr, the Sadrists have always represented the Iraq reality that greeted and dashed the neocons’ Iraq fantasies. It’s fitting then that, even as the neocons continue to struggle in the hope of wringing out some eleventh-hour concession that will enable something resembling the substantial long term U.S. military presence they’ve always had in mind for Iraq, the Sadrists appear well-positioned to dash that fantasy, too.