The Sadrist movement in Iraq

Between protest and power politics
Research paper Updated 25 April 2023 Published 28 October 2022 ISBN: 978 1 78413 545 4 DOI: 10.55317/9781784135454
Two men wait next to a large placard of Muqtada al-Sadr

Dr Benedict Robin-D’Cruz

Postdoctoral Fellow, Aarhus University

The populist Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who led the Shia Islamist Sadrist bloc to a shock victory in the October 2021 elections, prompted heightened political instability in the country in 2022 by announcing his withdrawal from both the process of forming the next government and from Iraqi politics in general. Sadr’s decision to send his followers to invade Iraq’s parliament and Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone then sparked violent conflict that killed dozens. This marked a shift away from the cleric’s previous strategy of building a power base within Iraq’s prevailing political consensus, the muhasasa ethno-sectarian system, towards a much riskier and more destabilizing form of protest-based politics.

These events demonstrated the social power held by the Sadrist movement and by its voter base, which is largely made up of poor urban Iraqis and which constitutes one of the largest Islamist movements across the Middle East.

The authors of this paper present the findings of a bespoke sociological and political survey of more than 1,000 residents of the Baghdad closed district known as Sadr City, and analyse the shifting trajectory of the Sadrist movement and its implications for Iraq.