Iraq: The Return of Al-Sadr

James Phillips /

The surprise return of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to Iraq on Wednesday is a sign of rising Iranian influence and diminishing American political clout in Iraq.

The triumphant homecoming of the fiery anti-American leader, who incited two bloody uprisings against U.S. forces after the 2003 invasion, could also foreshadow growing Iraqi political instability. The sad fact is that the rabble-rousing Islamist, who fled to Iran after his Mahdi militia was crushed, has now returned to Iraq more powerful than ever. His followers won 39 seats in last year’s parliamentary elections and were invited to join Iraq’s new government of national unity in a deal brokered by Iran last fall.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has a history of bitter clashes with al-Sadr, opted to enter an uncomfortable political alliance with the Sadrist faction in order to win a second term in office. Some observers hope that al-Sadr has evolved into a more moderate political leader, noting that he had previously said he would not return until U.S. troops had left Iraq. (more…)