The New York Times reports: Once an open client of Iran, Mr. Sadr has in recent years gone his own way, and is widely seen these days as an Iraq-first advocate of cross-sectarian unity. His militia, reconstituted after the extremists of the Islamic State captured Mosul in the summer of 2014, was renamed the Peace Brigades.
Today, as he seeks to redefine himself once again, Mr. Sadr, now 42, has positioned himself as a backer of Mr. Abadi, who is seen as increasingly weak in the face of the growing influence of Iran. Tehran supports Mr. Abadi’s political rivals, who command militias.
“Abadi, as a person, is kindhearted,” said Saad Thamer, 37, a supporter of Mr. Sadr’s who attended the rally. “But he is very weak.”
The militias have become exceedingly popular among the Shiite public, challenging Mr. Abadi’s authority, because they are seen as the protectors of the Shiite majority against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State.
It has also been a challenge to Mr. Sadr, who has lost of some of his support at the grass-roots level as young men flock to other militias seen as more powerful. His embrace of the Iraqi state has also sometimes worked against him by contradicting his image as a populist figure.
“From an anti-establishment young leader, he compromised his stance by working more with the Iraqi political establishment, which cost him a loss of some popularity among his followers,” said Maria Fantappie, the Iraq analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Iraq is a place where everyone has his enemies, and Mr. Sadr has his share. One of his chief critics is former Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who once counted on Mr. Sadr’s support to secure a second term after national elections in 2010. [Continue reading…]