The elections held in Iraq on Saturday, May 12, the fourth since the US invasion of 2003, which led to the fall of Saddam Hussein, have sanctioned a profound change of perspective in the Middle Eastern country’s political landscape. The outcome of the ballot, which is not yet official, is a victory for the al-Sairoon coalition led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, a prominent figure of the last 15 years, around whom Shiite Muslims, lay communists and anti-corruption activists have gravitated. Second place went to the Fatah coalition led by Hadi al-Amiri, made up of the more conservative politicians of the Supreme Coalition of Iraq, while the Victory in Iraq Coalition (Nasr Coalition), headed by outgoing prime minister Haidar Abadi, which was favorite to win on the eve of the election, only came third.
An influential man who wants "Iraq first"
Sadr, 44, is the son of an influential Shiite family in Iraq: one of his relatives, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al Sadr, was killed by the regime of Saddam Hussein in 1980, as were his father and two of his brothers, killed in 1999 in the Iraqi city of Najaf. Muqtada al Sadr has always opposed the US presence in the country, even since the invasion of 2003. His base is Sadr City, an eastern district of Baghdad inhabited by a Shiite majority, thus named after the fall of Hussein in honor of al-Sadr’s family. Following the conquest of Mosul by the Islamic State, in 2014, al-Sadr resumed his militant activity, gathering around him a militia known as the Peace Brigades, charged with protecting the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, the site of one of the most sacred sites for Shiite Islam. He entered the national political scene after a journey to Saudi Arabia, in 2017, where he met the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The meeting was widely reported in the local press and marked a clear and definitive change in al-Sadr’s position. “The Iraqi government will be a government of experts, it will not be influenced by political or economic interests”, wrote al-Sadr on Twitter the day after his electoral victory was announced. Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi and other political leaders in the Arab country congratulated the al-Sairoon coalition on its victory, although it will need the votes of the other parties to form a government.