The Return of Muqtada al-SadrEli Sugarman and Omar Al-Nidawi
Iraq’s nascent democracy faces a new dilemma: whether or not to embrace the political comeback of a former militia leader. Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shia cleric, has launched a public relations campaign, rebranding himself as a voice of sectarian harmony. Should Iraqis welcome Sadr with open arms, or be wary of his new persona?
Sadr first made a name for himself as an erratic demagogue who stoked sectarian fighting and helped bring Iraq’s young democracy to its knees. From 2003 to 2008, Sadr’s Mahdi Army took up arms against successive Iraqi governments and committed widespread atrocities against the country’s Sunni minority, in addition to targeting U.S. installations and personnel until American forces left Iraq at the end of 2011.
Then, last spring, he abruptly changed course, and he has spent the past year reforming his image and serving as a voice of moderation in Iraq. Sadr now openly decries violence, advocates the peaceful resolution of Iraq’s political disputes, an