Al-Sadr Followers to Quit Iraq Cabinet

Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical sheik who has simultaneously been at war with and a member of Nouri al-Maliki’s government has decided to give up the latter role. AP’s Qassim Abdul-Zahraai reports:

Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers to withdraw from Iraq’s coalition government on Monday, the head of his parliamentary bloc said. Al-Sadr’s ministers will “withdraw immediately from the Iraqi government and give the six Cabinet seats to the government, with the hope that they will be given to independents who represent the will of the people,” said Nassar al-Rubaie, head of al-Sadr’s bloc, reading a statement from the cleric.

The Cabinet withdrawal, while unlikely to topple Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, would deal a significant blow to the U.S.-backed leader, who also relied on support from the Sadrists to gain office.

Al-Sadr, who wields tremendous power among Iraq’s majority Shiites, has been upset about recent arrests of his Mahdi Army fighters in the U.S.-led Baghdad security crackdown. He and his followers have also criticized al-Maliki for failing to back calls for a timetable for U.S. troops to leave the country. One week ago, al-Sadr mobilized tens of thousands of Iraqis for a peaceful demonstration in two Shiite holy cities, on the fourth anniversary of Baghdad’s fall. At the rally, many participants called for such a timetable.

As a practical matter, it’s hard to see how this harms the government. Al-Sadr’s membership in the coalition has always been a rather bizarre joke. That’s been especially true in recent weeks, when Maliki has been engaged in a “crack down” against Sadrist forces while at the same time as pretending to govern with them.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.