Muqtada al-Sadr is a Shi’ite cleric in Baghdad, and a generally popular leader there. He’s been active and saying provocative things for a decade: how post-war looting was okay so long as you tithed to his religious movement, how the US needed to get out of Iraq, and how Iraq needed to run its own business. Oh. I should also mention his massive armed militia and how he’s been in and out of Iran, organizing folks, calling for jihad on the American occupation, getting his militia to call up and stand down as needed in order to massage events within Iraq, and generally being the most important figure in Iraq that doesn’t hold official office.
He had announced he was stepping out of politics in 2014, but recently marched his way into Iraq’s Green Zone in order to call for the end of the existing government structure in Iraq. The Green Zone is basically an old-school imperial structure, a $1B fortress within Baghdad that the coalition forces kept dumping money into until they decided it was safe. It’s now used by the Iraqis and whoever has an embassy out there.
Well, Sadr – here’s another interesting aside, the attendees at Saddam Hussein’s hanging execution chanted “Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!” at Hussein’s death because the guy really is that popular – when he entered the Green Zone, the local Iraqi army general greeted him with a few kisses and a chair. Sadr showed up, gave some speeches about corruption, and everyone decided to camp out and occupy the Green Zone.
They were Occupying because corruption in Iraq (along with most every other Middle Eastern country) is endemic, and the current prime minister Haider Jawad Kadhim Al-Abadi has been totally unsuccessful in de-corrupting the current governmental structure, largely because the only way the US could create a stable government in Iraq was to basically bake in the corruption beforehand by giving every major ethnic group a bounty and telling the co-opted leaders of each group to run that bounty. Now, that really was probably the only way they could’ve done it and “baking in corruption” wasn’t the primary purpose, but it sure as hell was a second-order effect that was necessary. Patronage is a thing and if you don’t have money and titles to dole out then F your democracy is basically how things go out there.
So, Sadr is out there telling the leadership to start listening to Abadi. And if they don’t, well… they’re chanting “Peaceful” from the walls of the Green Zone but I bet those voices don’t carry too far past the blast walls.
And now, they’ve moved into the Parliament building. There are real stakes here, and the country is once again teetering toward collapse. It hasn’t fallen yet, and maybe never will – just going on like a shambling zombie.
Iraq has been torn apart by its ongoing sectarian crisis. The Kurds are ready to bolt. The Shi’ite masses are tired of being pushed around by corrupt officials. The Sunnis are tired of getting shot at and burned out by the Iraqi army and Shi’ite militias’ purposefully over-eager and trigger-happy pursuit of ISIL.
Keep this place in mind the next time someone in Washington tells you that we need to liberate somewhere, because you know what? Iraq is still more functional than Libya.
UPDATE: I beat the Atlantic by a day! Also the author is also a better writer than me. 🙂