The Future of Iraq’s Crises After Sadr’s Withdrawal  and the Recent Armed Clashes


In a very dangerous and complicated development, Sadrist* leader Muqtada al-Sadr announced on August 29, 2022, that he was withdrawing  from political life and closing all of his offices, except for the shrine of his father, the family museum, and the Al-Sadr family heritage association. He also announced the closure of all social media pages related to his movement, while prohibiting the raising of flags and the chanting of slogans in the name of his movement in gatherings or protests.

Following a wave of bloody clashes in the Green Zone that claimed the lives of 23 people and injured 500 others after he announced his withdrawal  from politics, Sadr returned to the political scene to call on his supporters to immediately withdraw from the Green Zone and end the sit-ins within 60 minutes. According to some observers, Sadr’s speech laid the groundwork for calm. His supporters immediately left the scene. Observers were astounded by how quickly Sadr’s supporters left the Green Zone, reflecting on the level of influence he wields over his supporters.

The Environment and Motives for Sadr’s Decision

Sadr recently faced political and religious pressures, prompting him to  withdraw from politics, and he reiterated this position when calling on his  supporters to leave the Green Zone. The following factors influenced his decision:

  • The political impasse: Political forces are divided over his demands to dissolve the Parliament and hold early elections.
  •  The constitutional complication: The constitutional requirements to address the status quo are missing. According to Article 64 of the  Constitution, the  Parliament can constitutionally dissolve itself but with the approval of the majority (50%+1) of  Iraqi lawmakers and new elections can only be held  within 60 days of the date of dissolution through two mechanisms:

 First, one-third of Iraqi lawmakers need to  call for  Parliament to be dissolved, which is  difficult given the Coordination Framework’s (CF)* opposition to the dissolution. Even if the majority of the coalition  agrees to dissolve the  Parliament, the CF has the so-called “blocking third” power that hinders  its dissolution.

Second, the prime minister submits a request to the  president. However, this mechanism is unlikely because the president  is elected by the current  Parliament and the prime minister’s term has officially expired. This necessitates the election of a president of the country  and the appointment of a prime minister to dissolve the  Parliament.

Some are awaiting the Supreme Federal Court’s decision on whether the  Parliament should be dissolved due to the expiration of the constitutional term. However, this appears to be exceedingly difficult as the court lacks the constitutional authority to dissolve the  Parliament. It previously dismissed several lawsuits calling for the dissolution of the  Parliament, citing a lack of jurisdiction.

  • Attempts to delegitimize Muqtada al-Sadr: Sadr’s decision to  withdraw from politics was preceded by an unexpected move by cleric  Kazim al-Haeri; he is a marja-i taqlid (Shiite source of emulation)  who the Sadrists follow. Haeri’s resignation appears to be intended to put the Sadrist Movement in an awkward position and deprive it of marja legitimacy in favor of its rivals in the CF  and others who are in the Iranian camp.  Haeri focused on the idea that Sadr  lacks the qualifications needed to perform ijtihad, i.e., implying he has not become a marja yet, and must emulate  one of the Shiite clerics. As a result, Haeri directed his followers to emulate Khamenei, effectively putting Sadr and the Sadrists in limbo. Hence, the statement made by Haeri where he announced his resignation  was essentially directed at Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr in turn  picked up the signal and announced his withdrawal from  politics in Iraq entirely.

However,  there are additional implications related to Haeri’s resignation that go beyond causing a  crisis  for the Sadrist Movement and include  arrangements for  the marja succession in Najaf. In case of Sistani’s demise, Haeri was one of the pro-Iran nominees for becoming Najaf’s supreme marja.  But, the Iranians possibly decided  that putting pressure on Sadr and extinguishing his clout is more of a priority than  making arrangements to fill the post-Sistani void, especially since Haeri’s chances of becoming Sistani’s successor have diminished over time because of  his old age and  Najaf’s clerical community despising him.

Haeri’s resignation  is expected to be finalized, unlike Sadr’s. The latter appears to have absorbed the shock and is now reshuffling his cards, reconsidering his calculations and seeking  new religious legitimacy on which to base his political project. Perhaps Najaf will be the marjaya that he aligns with, represented by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani or Ayatollah al-Fayyad, especially since Sadr stated that Najaf is the mother and largest marjaya in the Shiite world. As a result, if this scenario plays out, there will be a Sadr-Najaf alliance versus an Iran-militia  alliance, with Sadr ending  his emulation of a pro-Iran marja or a marja with political goals different from his own. But the most pressing question is whether Najaf will bear the consequences of the Sadrist Movement’s acceptance of its religious authority? 

Significations of  Sadr’s Move

Through closely watching  Muqtada al-Sadr’s politicking,  the following observations can be made:

  •  Withdrawal is a repeated scenario by Sadr: This is not the first time that  Muqtada al-Sadr has announced his  withdrawal from politics. This is the third occasion over the past two years. He announced his withdrawal from the 2021 elections, but he returned and participated. He also announced his withdrawal from politics after the government formation talks reached an impasse due to the  CF’s blocking attempts. He then returned and engaged in politics, calling on his supporters to gather for a sit-in in front of the  Parliament to prevent the formation of a government led by the CF.
  • Significance of the current decision: Sadr’s decision to withdraw from politics this time is possibly  more dangerous than the previous occasions, given the following:
  • The decision comes at a critical juncture as  all factions are seeking a solution to the crisis that has exhausted Iraqis in the 10 months since the October 2021 election. It is difficult to find solutions without the Sadrist Movement, which wields the biggest clout on Iraq’s political landscape.
  • It sends a message to all parties that the Sadrist Movement is not responsible for what happens in Iraq after his withdrawal  decision, given the complicated crisis, which has reached its apex, and the frustration and boiling anger among Sadrist protesters over not having their demands met 30 days after they began their protests.
  • Escalating the dispute to the level of an armed conflict  to send a message  to all parties that  chaos can erupt before calling on his supporters to immediately withdraw within an hour. This is due to the fact that both parties to the conflict have paramilitaries, and their supporters share a mutual desire to exact revenge on each other as a result of the long-running dispute.
  • Sending messages that these demands are those of the people, not only Sadr’s: By taking this step — through which Sadr has thrown the calculations of all parties, including allied factions who partook in the dialogue with the CF, into disarray — he proves to those inside and outside the country that the demands for change spring from the angry masses, not just the Sadrists. Hence, he reveals how far the Iraqi street, not only the Sadrist Movement, has become dissatisfied with the situation in Iraq, prompting them to consider if he is really  the root cause or not of complicating the crisis and not reaching a solution in Iraq.  By withdrawing from politics, Sadr is sending the message that  others should bear the consequences of the public’s anger.  
  • Reiterating that he is the security valve of the popular protests: Through his withdrawal, it is believed that Sadr aimed to  give the protesters a chance to decide what they wanted and where they wanted to  go for a limited time. He  wanted to leave  the political forces pitted against the angry protesters, thus sending  a message to everyone that he was  the security valve that prevented the angry Iraqi street from exploding, and that  the  peaceful protesters would no longer have a security guarantor in his absence. This is exactly what  occurred. As soon as he announced his  withdrawal, street fighting erupted in the Green Zone, a new escalation  in the face of his rivals.  His supporters heeded his call and left the scene immediately after he called for their withdrawal.
  • Calculated escalation as a means to end the political deadlock: Sadr appears to have realized that pushing things to breaking point is necessary to end the political deadlock. He wanted to send  a message to everyone that he has levers for both resolving and causing crises. If this is  not true,  why did Sadr not call on his supporters to leave the street while he read out his withdrawal  statement? His call for his supporters to leave the Green Zone, as well as their quick response, presented  Sadr as an opponent of violence and exposed the CF inside and outside Iraq, revealing their violent tendencies, with its supporters using heavy weapons, rockets and mortars shortly after the chaos erupted.

Some observers believe that Sadr’s call for his supporters to leave the Green Zone only 24 hours after bloody clashes erupted shows that by allowing violence to erupt for a brief period, Sadr  sent a message to those inside and outside Iraq that he  holds exclusive power to calm or escalate the situation. Others believe Sadr  realized that continuing infighting is not in his favor because the militias would kill a large  number of his supporters.  Others also believe that Sadr feared the scenario that sees the continuation of open conflict with the militia fighters. The militias were quick to  use heavy weapons in a way that reminded Sadr of Operation Knight’s Charge in which  armed militias  massacred his supporters in 2008. Iran did the same thing in Lebanon when it allowed its ally Hezbollah to use excessive force against the Amal Movement in the 1980s.

  • The possibility of Sadr returning to the political landscape: Past experience  suggests that  Sadr’s return to politics is likely since he  likes to confuse and outwit his rivals. Every time he withdraws from the political landscape, he returns in a stronger position than before. Despite his decision to  withdraw from politics, he continues to monitor the developments. This is proven  by his call to his Sadrist supporters to withdraw from the Green Zone and the continuation of Saleh Mohammad al-Iraqi, a spokesman for Sadr, to deliver remarks indicating  that the movement has not given up  the country  to the CF.  Sadr has  full control over his supporters. He can order them to stop or act — not through a television show but a short post on Twitter. His  withdrawal does not mean the influence of his movement is over. Previous occasions have proven that the exact opposite is true, with Sadr returning and strongly influencing  events in the country. Sadr has  withdrawn from politics, but  the influence of the Sadrist Movement is not dependent on the presence or absence of its leader.  The movement has a massive base of supporters, with it described  as a million-man movement, with  significant influence across  Iraq.

The Repercussions of the Shiite Escalation on Iran’s Clout in Iraq

The outcomes of the recent successive events in Iraq indicate significant results that are not in  favor of Iran such as the following:

  • The rising priority of  limiting arms to the state: One of the most significant results of   recent Iraqi events is the increasing  demand for weapons to be limited to the state despite the fact that disarming militias is  difficult and complicated. In his   speech that called on  his supporters to withdraw from the Green Zone, Sadr stated that illegal arms were the prime reason  behind the events unfolding in Iraq.  Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi also stressed that  illegal weapons  were the cause of the crisis, and that the events in Baghdad had compelled the authorities to  limit arms to the state. He threatened to step down if the crisis continued.  The prime minister may resign if the CF continues to refuse to  dissolve  the Parliament. This refusal is likely to lead to more  armed chaos that will harm  Iran’s interests, with Tehran calling  for calm in Iraq,  in the current period particularly.
  • The control of Iraq’s political affairs is not in the hands of Iran’s arms: The pro-Iranian political alliances in Iraq have been  unable to control the Iraqi arena, even though they  have depended on the use  of  illegal  arms to support their positions such as not dissolving the Parliament.  On the other hand, Sadr has taken the lead in Iraq,  and he is the wild card that cannot be bypassed.    Even if he withdraws or retires,  Sadr is still a force to be  reckoned with. In addition, his political project aligns with the aspirations of the people, which is based on  establishing  strong state institutions, ensuring the independence of Iraq’s decisions, confining arms to the state  and establishing balanced external relations. His project opposes Iran’s project, which is based on ensuring Iraq’s subordination to Tehran,   and keeping Iraq within  its sphere of influence as Baghdad is an integral part of  its expansionist project in the region. The latest events have confirmed that Sadr has the power to provoke escalation,  halt hostilities  and establish peace. He is also able   to destabilize the fragile formation of the CF and the pro-Iranian armed factions.
  • The divergent positions of the CF toward Sadr: Recent events reflect   the divergent viewpoints within the CF  toward addressing Sadr’s demands. Nouri al-Maliki and Qais al-Khazali adopt  a stricter position  on Sadr’s  demands, especially in regard  to dissolving  the Parliament and holding early elections. On the other hand, Hadi al-Amiri, Haider al-Abadi, and Ammar al-Hakim are less strict regarding Sadr’s demands. This will negatively  impact the future of the CF and its cohesion.  This intra-Shiite dispute is  not  in the interest of Iran and its political influence in Iraq.

However, there is a possibility that  the ongoing violence might  prompt the pro-Iran armed militias that dispute over   resources, leadership and influence to unite and harmonize  against the Sadrist Movement to preserve their  achievements and influence in Iraq.

 Future Scenarios

 Against the backdrop of the recent political conflict and violence, the Iraqi scene awaits the following scenarios: 

  • The possibility of dissolving the Parliament: Sadr calling on  his supporters to withdraw and   the CF following suit contributed to calm and a ceasefire; this may now force all parties to resort to dissolving  the Parliament.   This is in addition to the fact that the three presidencies called on all parties to accept the option of dissolving the current  Parliament and  holding parliamentary elections  within 60 days of the body’s termination. This call should be considered within the framework of an Iraqi national understanding to preempt  the Federal Court’s decision, or in response to the court’s  recommendation to resolve the political crisis.  By changing the election law and calling for early elections, these moves  could converge with Sadr’s demands.  He believes that he has made many concessions  to reach a political solution such as  giving up his lawmakers’  seats in Parliament that amount to 71 and calling on his supporters to withdraw quickly from the Green Zone to stop the bloodshed. The majority of the deaths and injuries were inflicted on Sadr’s supporters,  as per Iraqi media.
  • Formulation of a new phase for the dissolution of the Parliament: Influential political figures  in Iraq such as Barzani, Amiri, Kadhimi, Halbousi and others may initiate negotiations with Sadr to reach a settlement if the court does not recommend the dissolution of the Parliament. This may pave the way for the dissolution of  the Parliament and setting a specific period of not more than one year during which either a new government will be formed with a new  figure other than Sudani,  or the Kadhimi government will continue   in a caretaker role. In addition, new elections will be held, and the election  law will be amended. Further, the issue of identifying the largest bloc should be resolved, and there should be guarantees for accepting the election results as Massoud Barzani’s initiative stated. However, the Sadrists will find this scenario very hard to accept   because they insist on dissolving the Parliament, holding early elections and excluding old parties in the elections. In addition, after Sadr called on his supporters to withdraw from the Green Zone within 60 minutes,  his spokesperson  told  the protesters, “We will not allow new corruption led by corrupt people.”
  •  The return of protests and further  chaos: The scenario of the return of protests, sit-ins and chaos is very likely, particularly if the CF continues  to disrupt the dissolution of the   Parliament and holding early elections.  In this regard, Sadrist spokesman Saleh Mohammed al-Iraqi stated that the  movement will not allow new corruption led by corrupt people, in reference to the pro-Iranian alliances of the  CF. He also sent a message  to his supporters to be ready to return to  protests and sit-ins if their demands receive  no response.

The other sign  of  a possible return of  protests is that  the CF is  indifferent to the current demands  and calls for the swift  return of the Parliament and the rest of the constitutional institutions to perform their constitutional duties and work to form a new government while ignoring  the demands of the  Sadrist Movement  and its concessions  to restore calm to the Iraqi street. Another sign  of the return of protests is the call of Saleh Mohammed al-Iraqi for Sadr’s  supporters to be ready  if the return to  protests is deemed necessary.

This is part of an exchange of veiled threats. Maliki expressed indignation at Sadr by saying that force cannot be used to impose a political reality on others. In response, Saleh Mohammed al-Iraqi issued a strongly-worded statement against the CF for its indifference to the demands of the  Sadrist Movement and its attempts to proceed with the formation of  the government. He called on Iran to collect its “camel,” according to his statement.

In addition, the motives for  renewed protests are still standing, including the failure of the CF to respond to the demands of the Sadrist Movement,  and the ongoing anger and popular frustration over the dire economic  conditions. Sadr’s call for his supporters to withdraw from the Green Zone does not mean leaving matters in the hands of the CF, but rather it is a step as  described by some members  affiliated with the CF  to stop the spilling of Iraqi blood and   it also sends a message that Sadr  is in control of matters in Iraq.


The Iraqi crisis has been seriously  complicated as the CF continues with its plan to form the next Iraqi government while the Sadrists seek to dissolve the Parliament, hence  threatening  a new round of  protests and chaos. Hope lies in  the Federal Court’s  prominent role  to resolve the current political crisis.   It can restore stability if  it recommends to dissolve  the Parliament  or ignite a new round of  protests and chaos  if it adheres to its position that it  lacks jurisdiction, especially as the  prime minister  has threatened to resign.  If the court recommends to dissolve  the Parliament, it will be  a historic judicial decision which will be recognized for preventing the spilling of Iraqi blood.  The dissolution of the Parliament and holding early elections represent a ray of  hope for Iraq to exit the current complex crisis. 

Iraq’s neighbors that aspire for establishing stability in Iraq  can sponsor an initiative to settle the Iraqi crisis starting with resolving the electricity crisis through establishing electrical grid networks and supporting Iraqi political elites who aim to halt the cycle of violence and chaos in the country.  

* The Sadrist Movement is a political religious movement  founded by Muqtada al-Sadr, an Iraqi Shiite cleric, after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Sadr’s large grassroots following stems  from the popularity of his late father, Ayatollah Mohammed Mohammed al-Sadr who was assassinated in 1999. Sadr  enjoys massive popularity and aspires to bring his national project into reality in order to meet the demands of the Iraqi people. The project is based on  a country that is free of uncontrolled sectarian militias, corruption and terrorism as well as ensuring that the country has an independent and  balanced foreign policy.  Sadr’s project conflicts with Iran’s clout in the country.  Kazem al-Haeri  is the Sadrists’ marja-i taqlid  (source of emulation) as Sadr’s father recommended him to assume this position after his death.  Haeri  resigned, or was  forced to, in August 2022.  In response,  the Sadrists turned  toward the Najaf Marjaya given the fact that it is the largest Shiite seminary in the country.      

* The Coordination Framework (CF) is a coordination umbrella  of Shiite parties formed in March 2021. Most of its parties have armed branches and work to implement a pro-Iranian project to ensure Iran’s influence in Iraq. The pro-Iran project opposes the Sadrist popular project that is based on establishing a sovereign independent Iraqi state that curbs the influence of Iran’s proxies in  the country’s decision making  and ensures a balanced foreign policy.  The CF includes a host of Shiite politicians and military  figures such as Nouri al-Maliki, Hadi al-Ameri, Ammar al-Hakim, Haider al-Abadi, and Qais al-Khazali. Some follow Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as the marja while others follow  Kazem al-Haeri. Others  do not believe in the necessity to follow a marja in the political realm.  Recently, the intra-Shiite dispute impacted the Sadrist Movement, the Najaf seminary, and the whole political landscape in Iraq. 

Editorial Team