Iraq’s influential Shia cleric and head of the Sadrist movement, Moqtada Al-Sadr, announced yesterday that he will stage a hunger strike in protest over the mounting violence in the capital Baghdad, after deadly clashes erupted between his followers, rival supporters and security forces.
Citing a tweet by the head of the resigned Sadrist bloc, Hassan Al-Athari, the state-run Iraqi News Agency reported that “Sayyed Al-Sadr, has announced a hunger strike, until the violence and the use of weapons stop.”
“The corrupt community does not give anyone, no matter what, a justification for the use of violence from all sides,” Al-Athari added.
At least 30 protestors have been killed and hundreds injured since Al-Sadr announced that he would quit politics yesterday. His loyalists stormed the Republican Palace, the seat of the Iraqi government, which led to clashes with supporters of the rival Coordination Framework, a pro-Iranian umbrella of Shia parties. Gun fire was also reportedly exchanged at the fortified Green Zone.
This would not be the first time that the cleric has stated his intention to withdraw from politics, however Al-Sadr’s tweet today appeared to be the most serious statement yet, announcing his “final retirement and the closure of all institutions except for the Holy Shrine, the Noble Museum and the Al-Turath Authority.”
However, Albert Wolf, a research associate at Johns Hopkins University, doubts Al-Sadr’s intention of quitting politics and believes it is an attempt to gain more political leverage over his rivals. “This is Sadr being Sadr. I believe he is jockeying for leverage in this current political crisis,” Wolf was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying.
“I don’t believe that he’s retiring from politics. Sadr is one of the few, if not the only figure in the Iraqi public sphere who can summon hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets. I think Iraq is in for another election, and I think the election will probably result in a very similar outcome as the last two elections, with probably low voter turnout, if not lower turnout than the last two.”
Iraq has faced political deadlock since the October elections last year where the Sadrists emerged as the largest political bloc and the country has been without a new government since. The election results were disputed by the Coordination Framework who do not see eye to eye with the Sadrist movement on who should be the next prime minister replacing Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who is currently acting as a caretaker Prime Minister.