Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 14, 2018

The 'Kingmaker' Is Back - Muqtada Al-Sadr Wins The Election In Iraq

On Saturday the people of Iraq voted for a new parliament.

The surprising winner is the Sairoon coalition of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Communist Party of Iraq. According to the preliminary results it gained 54 parliament seats. There are a total of 320 seats in the Iraqi parliament and complicate multiparty coalitions are necessary to gain a majority and to elect a new Prime Minister.

The Fatah Coalition headed by Hadi al-Amiri came in second with 47 seats. The Nasr coalition of the current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is third with 42 seats. The party of former premier Maliki is lagging behind with 25 seats.

Two, three or four of the larger blocks will have to find a coalition agreement that will also accommodate dozens of smaller parties with two or three parliament seats.

For outsiders Iraqi politics can be somewhat surprising. The female candidate of the Communist Party in the Shia holy city of Najaf, Suhad al-Khateeb, wears a Hijab. She is a scion of the Marjaiyya (religious establishment) family Saleem Adel. The Communist Party is allied with rabble rouser Moqtada al-Sadr. She won her parliament seat.


Muntaza Al Zaidi (vid), the Iraqi journalist who in 2008 threw his shoes at George W. Bush (vid) also won a seat.

This was the first election after the war against ISIS in Iraq has been won. It was feared that ISIS underground cells would interrupt the election by attacking candidates or voting locales but nothing significant happened.

With only 44.5% of the people voting the participation was abysmal. The last elections had participation rates above 60%. One reason might have been the generic election campaigns of the establishment parties. They lacked arguments on issues and policies. Fortunately sectarianism played only a small role with some Shia candidates winning large shares of Sunni votes and vice versa.

The low participation rates favored those parties and personalities with a large direct following. These "whale parties" will now have to make further coalition deals. It is quite possible that Prime Minister Abadi, whose party lost significantly, will stay in his office and lead a new coalition government in which he has less say. Muqtada al-Sadr will be the one who decides that.

Muqtada al-Sadr after voting in Saturday's election - bigger

The forty-four year old Muqtada al-Sadr is the son of a Grand Ayatollah who was assassinated under Saddam Hussein. The traditional political base of the al-Sadres is in the poor of Baghdad. Sadr city in Baghdad is named after his father. Muqtada and his followers in the Mahdi Army viciously fought the U.S. occupiers as well as sectarian Sunni gangs. In 2006 the U.S. planned to kill him and al-Sadr fled to Iran. U.S. media called him "anti-American" but Sadr is simply an Iraqi nationalist. He settled in Qom and tried to acquire higher theological credentials. Academically he was said to be a rather dim bulb and his studies went nowhere. He still lacks higher clerical credentials. Al-Sadr is disliked by the Iranian government and clerics as an unreliable and unthankful maniac.

During the U.S. occupation of Iraq we wrote quite a bit about Muqtada. Commentators at Moon of Alabama nicknamed him Mookie.

Over the last ten years Muqtada took the non-sectarian position traditionally associated with his father. He criticized the corruption of the political class but mostly from the sideline. Muqtada has lately partnered with the Iraqi communists and with secular candidates. His coalition campaigned on an anti-establishment note. His regained significance might help to clean up the patronage policies and corruption that long paralyzed Iraqi politics.

Muqtada has good contacts with the Saudis. His meeting with the Saudi Clown Prince Mohamad bin-Salman in July 2017 took place in an airport conference room. It lacked the usual gold and glitter of Saudi royalty. One wonders which side proposed the low drama location.


The Saudis will likely find, like everyone else before them, that Muqtada is uncontrollable. After this election neither the Saudis nor Iran nor the U.S. will have much political influence in Iraq. While Iran has strong economic and religious ties with Iraq its political meddling is much despised. The U.S. is seen as manipulative. Everyone believes that it created ISIS and Al-Qaeda and most Iraqis want all U.S. troops to leave.

Iraq has many serious problems. The economy is in bad shape. As the Turks build more and more upstream dams water in Iraq is getting scarce. The Kurds are not loyal to the Iraqi state. They think of vengeance after Baghdad took Kirkuk back from them. The Islamic State will try to come back. U.S. threats and machinations against Iran will make Iraqi foreign policy more complicate.

After the crushing experience of the last two and a half decades the people of Iraq truly deserve peace and a government that cares about their needs. Muqtada al-Sadr's strong position will help to form a less corrupt and more technocratic government that actually solves problems.

The next Iraqi government will try to keep Iraq out of the U.S.-Iran conflict. That will likely be in vain.

Posted by b on May 14, 2018 at 14:39 UTC | Permalink


This would seem to have good possibilities. Looks like he could work well with Assad.

(((@karlof1 129

Excellent article.

"Baghdad has been able, almost simultaneously, to pull off two major game-changers; a military victory in Mosul and a political victory in Kirkuk. If Iraq stabilizes, erasing the Daesh death cult, so will Syria. As al-Jebouri notes, “now every community must have a cut of the cake.” At least 7 million jobs and pensions are paid by Baghdad. People want the return of regularly paid salaries."

""It’s a sort of state-building mechanism springing out of a resistance ethic. As if the ominous Daesh threat, which may have led to as many as 3.1 million IDPs, shook up the collective Iraqi subconscious, awakened the Iraqi Shi’ite proletariat/disenfranchised masses, and accelerated cultural decolonization. And this complex development couldn’t be further from religious bigotry."


Stephen Gowans has a new book out ‘Washington’s Long War on Syria’ which is recommended by Eva Bartlett.

“”If there were any references in Western media to the Assad government’s commitment to the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party’s values of freedom from foreign domination, state direction, planning and control of the economy, and working toward the unity of the Arab nation, I’m not aware of them.””

“”The thesis of this book is that Wall Street’s war on Syria was motivated by the same aim: the de-Ba’athification of Syria and the elimination of secular Arab nationalist influence from the Syrian state, as a means of expunging the Arab nationalist threat to U.S. hegemony.””

Posted by: financial matters | Nov 15, 2017 1:36:16 PM | 133)))

Posted by: financial matters | May 14 2018 15:01 utc | 1

A bit of good news for this Monday! It is wonderful to see independent, anti- sectarian candidates gaining ground in Iraq. There is a long road ahead, but inshallah Iraq will rise from the ashes.

Posted by: Don Wiscacho | May 14 2018 15:08 utc | 2

One wonders whether Mr Cheney choked on his kasha this morning while learning that Mookie and the Commies are ascendant.

Posted by: Bart Hansen | May 14 2018 15:14 utc | 3


It would be too humane a death for Cheney to suffer, but I'd take it.

Posted by: WJ | May 14 2018 15:28 utc | 4

I'm still reminded that, way back in late 2003, when some American asked "Salam Pax" - or was it his friend Raed? - what would be the biggest problem the US occupation of Iraq would face, he replied "Sadr".

Posted by: Clueless Joe | May 14 2018 15:58 utc | 5

Garrie's write-up of the election provides this map showing the geographical dispersal of the vote. But I disagree with his overall assessment that the election proves "the country remains as confused and political[ly] disorientated as it has been since the illegal US/UK invasion of 2003." Rather, I see what ought to be a normal disaggregation of political affiliation in an infant democratic-parliamentarian nation. Let Iraqis have 50 or so years to allow their political system to mature and watch the overall number of parties shrink. IMO, Garrie unrealistically wants Iraq to immediately become a strongly unified state ruled by one dominant nationalist party.

Not too many articles about election results. This Reuters item is anti-Iran biased as one would expect and is rather info poor. Which parties end up creating the ruling coalition might provide some clue as to Iraq's future direction.

Posted by: karlof1 | May 14 2018 16:17 utc | 6

Muqtada Al-Sadr has been waiting in the wings for years to get a foothold in the parliament. The question is: will he exercise his new found power to kick out the Yanks who he hates and wants rid of?

Posted by: john wilson | May 14 2018 16:38 utc | 7

Ah yes, but will the US allow Muqtada al-Sadr to win? That's the question. All previous Iraqi prime ministers since 2003 have been subject to US approval, or at least lack of objection. Al-Maliki was originally approved, and then became less so. Haydar al-Abbadi was "approved". I have difficult in believing Muqtada al-Sadr would be acceptable to the US.

Posted by: Laguerre | May 14 2018 17:07 utc | 8

I love reading about all these non-Iraqi Arabs celebrating at the the thought that Iran had its hand slapped. Memory needs to serve them better; Sadr is part Iranian and would run to Iran every time trouble was brewing. Do they seriously think he is completely "secular'.

He's as secular as Ahmad Chalabi. The Iranians knew Ahmad a whole lot better than the neocons.

Posted by: debenscott | May 14 2018 17:09 utc | 9

Laguerre @8--

Sadr didn't try to become an MP so is disqualified to become PM.

Posted by: karlof1 | May 14 2018 17:13 utc | 10

well, someone from his party then, karlof.

Posted by: Laguerre | May 14 2018 17:21 utc | 11

It is no coincidence that Sadr's strong showing follows Hezbollah's 'victory' in Lebanon's elections: this isn't about secular versus religious but about populism. Which explains the alliance with the Communist Party-the same one that the US hired Saddam Hussein to wipe out back in the day, because it threatened to work for equality and sovereignty.

Posted by: bevin | May 14 2018 18:17 utc | 12

Wikipedia cannot be fully trusted on these topics, but even this sanitised excerpt gives one a sense of things ( - "The United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has had a long history of involvement in Iraq. Although the CIA was not directly involved in the 1963 Ba'athist coup that ousted Abd al-Karim Qasim, it had been plotting to remove Qasim from mid-1962 until his overthrow, developing contacts with Iraqi opposition groups including the Ba'ath Party and planning to "incapacitate" a high-ranking member of Qasim's government with a poisoned handkerchief. After the 1968 Ba'athist coup appeared to draw Iraq into the Soviet sphere of influence, the CIA colluded with the government of Iran to destabilize Iraq by arming Kurdish rebels. Beginning in 1982, the CIA began providing Iraq intelligence during the Iran–Iraq War. The CIA was also involved in the failed 1996 coup against Saddam Hussein.")
One of Qasim's sins was making overtures to Iraqi communists - so these elections are certainly a lesson in irony.

Posted by: GoraDiva | May 14 2018 18:24 utc | 13

The return of Mookie,I never thought I would see it happen, awesome:)

Posted by: frances | May 14 2018 18:54 utc | 14

Sadr has at least decent attitude to the basic problems of Iraq, so this result is probably positive.

1. Corruption. So far, Iraq was following model of Angola: big oil revenue vanishing like water in the sands of a desert. Quite a bit of corruption is inevitable, but my impression is that achieving, say, 75% of the budget being spend on something useful could be revolutionary in Iraq. With enormous destruction, oil can finance construction activity that can provide a lot of jobs, and some sensible economy can be jump-started from there.

2. Sunni-Shia divide. Sunni are bound to be underdogs, being in minority -- especially if we do not consider Kurds which are a group that is on a side, with its own internal problems -- but they need to be incorporated into political system, get generous subsidies to rebuild they destroyed cities, while repression stimulated by the terror activity have to stay on sensible level and get as much Sunni cooperation as possible.

As far as I could tell, Maliki was atrocious on both counts, Abadi seems a cypher, so Dawa party of those two gentlemen acquired status of rotten establishment. Getting Communists on board signals a rational attitude toward "technocrats", Western prescriptions work quite badly in the region (and even back home, USA and Europe), in general, the technical specialists that Iraq needs are those who were outsiders rather than alumni of World Bank etc.

On Shia-Sunni divide, Sadr had decent rhetoric with checkered record, "his" al-Mahdi army was implicated in atrocities, but he has a good excuse that he was not actually in control of that group, and time spent in Qom allowed him to distance himself even further.

Then there are vexing tangles, like how to work with conflicting pressures of Iran, KSA plus USA and Turkey, with "official military" armed and influenced by USA and militias called Popular Mobilization units armed/advised by Iran, and some degree of incoherent charm could be a good tactic, or Trump-style disaster.

Posted by: Piotr Berman | May 14 2018 19:15 utc | 15

Donald Trump and Bolton and General Mad Dog must now fight the Red Menace in Iraq.

I recommend these badasses do it personally donning boxing gloves.

Posted by: fastfreddy | May 14 2018 19:28 utc | 16

Probably you haven't understood, but the person who decides in Iraq is Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf, not the US. He is very aged now, but not dead. What he says will be followed. He is not for the Sadrists, who are populists. If he is able to express an opinion, Iraq will follow him.

Posted by: Laguerre | May 14 2018 21:21 utc | 17

Looks like Iraqi air space will be closed to Israeli jet fighters whose pilots I'm sure are itching with their shaking trigger fingers to lob a few bombs on Iranian nuclear reactor facilities in Isfahan, Qom and Natanz.

Color revolution regime change in Iran just became a lot harder for Israel and the US.

Posted by: Jen | May 14 2018 22:49 utc | 18

Posted by: Laguerre | May 14, 2018 5:21:04 PM | 17

Correct and even the Iran's are afraid of Ayatollah Sistani because he is true cleric of Islam.

My he live a long time.

Thanks b I do think this a great thing for Iraq people if he can stay alive.

Heads in Amerika explode on this news:-) I live in Amerika;-(

Posted by: jo6pac | May 15 2018 0:00 utc | 19

Posted by: jo6pac | May 14, 2018 8:00:14 PM | 19

I live in Amerika too and think the news is both funny and refreshing.

Sistani is heavy duty, no doubt about it, but Sadr has always struck me as more free of Amerikan influence.

Posted by: SingingSam | May 15 2018 0:18 utc | 20

Mildly off topic, but another indicator that The Times They Are A-Changing in the Muslim World. Malaysia recently voted stridently anti-Zionist, ex-PM Mahathir Mohamad back into power. He's the bloke who clashed with Oz PM Paul Keating over the remark that "Jews rule the world by proxy" back in the 1990s. He was also the chief sponsor of the tragic Gaza Siege-busting voyage of the Mavi Marmara from Turkey to Gaza, which allowed "Israel" to hone its unarmed civilian-killing skills.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | May 15 2018 2:02 utc | 21

While not wishing to detract from the generally excellent analysis offered by MoA, I have to say that producing analysis even before the official results are out, concedes too much to the rushness (and pit-falls) of journalism, often detracting from analysis itself. However, understandably, the cake is always better sold when hot.
If recent history of Iraqui elections is of any relevance, it is going to be the horse-trading starting today which will determine the colour, composition and direction of the next government. The supposed 54 or so sits that Sairoon won, out of 320 is about 17% of the total, and with the trailing parties gaining 8-15% each, the landscape is all but fractured. At this point we can say Sairoon came in first and is front-runner in trying to shape a government. Whether this will make any difference in the next government's make-up and policy remains to be seen.

Posted by: Usul | May 15 2018 9:35 utc | 23

The Kurds are not loyal to the Iraqi state. They think of vengeance after Baghdad took Kirkuk back from them.
Of course, they're not loyal, but they're defeated for the moment, and I think they've understood that complete independence is not going to work. Much better to live their own life with Baghdad subsidies (if they ever start again, which legally they should do).

Posted by: Laguerre | May 15 2018 12:57 utc | 24

@13: Check out 'Baghdad Blues' by Sam Greenlee ('The Spook Who Sat by the Door'). Written in 1976, it's about the only black CIA agent to go to Iraq in 1957, during the time of Saddam's rise and a coup against the US-backed government.

It was republished by Natiki Nailah Books in 2007. Find it on Abe Books (couldn't find the publisher):

Greenlee, sadly died in 2014:

I'd love to turn the book into a movie.

Posted by: William Bowles | May 15 2018 13:51 utc | 25

Whoops! The Guardian link has an unwanted period in it! Apologies.

Posted by: William Bowles | May 15 2018 15:06 utc | 26

Not sure if anyone has posted this yet, here it is anyways.

Posted by: Bakerpete | May 15 2018 17:40 utc | 27

- The return of Muqtada Al Sadr means more instability in the Middle East. A number of countries (in the Middle East) is not going to like that. Saudi Arabia, Israel, US, Iran, Turkey ?
- Can Al Sadr re-unite Iraq ? Can he improve the relationship with the Kurds and the Sunnis ?

Posted by: Willy2 | May 15 2018 20:32 utc | 28

- Like in Syria Israel wants a weak and divided Iraq.

Posted by: Willy2 | May 15 2018 20:34 utc | 29

I have a somewhat interesting story to tell. I am a Shia, originally from Pakistan but I have lived in the Wash DC area for more than 20 years. A couple of years after the Iraq 2003 invasion, there was a conference for American-based Shias in DC. Guess who was invited? Paul Wolfowitz, who gave a very heart-wrenching speech about how the US freed the oppressed Shias from Saddam's rule. There were also some very vocal Pakistani Shias calling for a fatwa and murder of Sadr because he was fighting against the US army there, LOL. Of course that never happened, and Sadr is back again. The conference still happens (called UMAA conference) but thankfully, with no neocon speakers anymore.

Posted by: Dvash | May 15 2018 21:01 utc | 30

@ 27

Nothing in there we didn't already know. In fact, I found it a tad rambling but she said one thing with regard to Israel which is actually more pertinently applied to the United States:-

'9. A nation that can’t exist without nonstop war and violence is not a nation at all, it’s a decades-long military operation with a few suburbs sprinkled on top.'

That describes the US succinctly.

Posted by: Bevin Kacon | May 16 2018 4:28 utc | 31

Thanks, Dvash (@30)

Posted by: Pacifica_Advocate | May 16 2018 5:47 utc | 32

- Now Al Sadr is back, this is a setback for Saudi Arabia, the US and Israel. Although Al Sadr is not Teheran's puppet, he does have a friendly relationship with Teheran. And that won't go down too well in Riyad, Washington DC and Jeruzalem.
- If Al Sadr is able to win over the Sunnis then Saudi Arabia will loose its grip on those same Sunnis.

Posted by: Willy2 | May 16 2018 13:37 utc | 33

I should also add that those UMAA conferences typically will have representatives from the higher Shia clerics, especially the marjas. There is always a representative from Ayatollah Sistani's office there. His rep was the one under pressure; they wanted al-Sistani to issue a fatwa against Sadr.

Posted by: Dvash | May 16 2018 14:41 utc | 34

Moqtada al Sadr openly denounced Assad of Syria and Iraqi PMU militias.
Then went for party with Lunstic MBS of Saudi Arabia

Posted by: Brad | May 18 2018 21:08 utc | 35

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