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The Sadrists of Basra and the Far South of Iraq: The Most Unpredictable Political Force in the Gulf’s Oil-Belt Region?


Background paper on internal rivalries within the Sadrist movements, and how US policy could affect Muqtada al-Sadr's strategies in the future. Available as PDF file.


The argument in this paper is two-fold: on the one hand, the oil-rich far south of Iraq has a special potential for radical and unpredictable millenarianism by discontented Sadrists; on the other hand, developments among the Sadrist leadership nationally suggest that many key figures – including Muqtada al-Sadr himself and some of his lieutenants with links to Basra – still prefer a more moderate course and will seek to hold on to a veneer of Shiite orthodoxy as long as possible. Accordingly, the future of the Sadrist movement, including in the far south, will likely be decided by how US and Iraqi government policies develop over coming months. If Washington chooses to support Nuri al-Maliki in an all-out attack against the Sadrists, the response may well be an intensification of unpredictable Mahdist militancy in the far south, in a far more full-blown picture than anything seen so far. There will be no genuine national reconciliation in Baghdad, simply because the centralism of the Sadrists is a necessary ingredient in any grand compromise that can appeal to real Sunni representatives. Conversely, if the Sadrists are encouraged to participate in the next local elections, Amara – where Sadrists have been engaged in local politics since 2005 – could emerge as a model of positive Sadrist contributions to local politics in Iraq. At the national level, too, the Sadrists could come to play the same constructive role as that seen in February 2008, when they together with Fadila reached out to Sunni Islamists and secularists to challenge the paralysed Maliki government on a nationalist basis by demanding early provincial elections.


Full details of publication:
Reidar Visser, "The Sadrists of Basra and the Far South of Iraq: The Most Unpredictable Political Force in the Gulf's Oil-Belt Region?" (NUPI Paper no. 734, Oslo: Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 2008, 21 pages).

Previous NUPI papers on southern Iraq:

Basra Crude: The Great Game of Iraq’s “Southern” Oil (March 2007)

Sistani, the United States and Politics in Iraq: From Quietism to Machiavellianism? (March 2006)

Shi'i Separatism in Iraq: Internet Reverie or Real Constitutional Challenge? (August 2005)



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