Ballot-box win boosts Iraqi radical
Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc will have about 30 of the Shiite coalition's 128 seats in the new Iraqi parliament.
The crowd of Moqtada al-Sadr's followers stretched 10 blocks, blanketing a sprawling boulevard in Sadr City, the Baghdad slum. Loudspeakers rattled as a cleric railed against the US occupation.Skip to next paragraph
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Off to the side, Abbas Rubaie, Mr. Sadr's chief political tactician, looked out over the sea of the radical Shiite cleric's supporters who gathered Friday. "The Shiite alliance is the biggest party in parliament and the Sadrists are the biggest bloc in the Shiite alliance," he says. "We cannot be ignored."
When Iraq's election results are certified this week, Sadr is expected to increase his numbers in parliament by 50 percent. That rise will give significant power to the most rigid and anti-US wing of the Shiite bloc, further complicating efforts for the US to maintain influence in Iraq's emerging government.
The Sadrist lawmakers will have about 30 of the Shiite coalition's 128 seats in the new Iraqi parliament, a number equal to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), generally thought to be the most powerful Shiite party.
But a splinter Shiite group, known as the Risalyoon, or Messengers, took two additional seats, and is expected to ally with the Sadrists in coming days.
Already Sadr has pushed the Shiite coalition and other Iraqi politicians to take a more intransigent stance on key issues. Agreement to his 14-point code of honor was his precondition to join the Shiite slate. The code demands a short-term timetable for US withdrawal, recognizes the right of armed resistance should it stay, and rejects ties with Israel.
Along with his fellow Shiites, some 200 Iraqi politicians signed on to the document. This support that Sadr has attracted could erode the traditional alliance between other Shiite politicians and the US - a relationship that has helped legitimize the continued American presence in Iraq.
"Sadr is a power now that is affecting everyone, and not just the Shiites," says Aref Taifour, the Kurdish deputy speaker of the outgoing parliament. "They're going to be a big opposition force, with a large following, and others are going to have to respond."
One of Sadr's few saving graces in US eyes, say analysts, was his staunch defiance of Iranian meddling in Iraqi politics. But even that appears to be fading. Last week, he traveled to Iran where he said his Mahdi Army would defend the Islamic Republic if it was attacked.
But Sadr's rising clout could yet be a blessing for US officials, say analysts, who are pushing for a government of national unity that includes Iraq's Sunni Arabs, the backbone of the insurgency. Sadr stands closer to the Sunni Arabs on key issues such as federalism, and seems more willing than many of his fellow Shiites to make the sort of compromises necessary to bring them into the government.
"He will be very extreme, a real die-hard fundamentalist in terms of religion and state issues, and the US occupation, but at the same time when it comes to making some concessions to the Sunnis he can be a moderating force," says Amatzia Baram, an Iraq expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
The son of a leading Ayatollah who was killed by Saddam Hussein in 1999, Sadr was virtually unknown when US troops invaded Iraq in 2003. But early into the occupation he emerged as a voice of dissent.