Demonstrators wave Iraqi flags during a protest called by fiery cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf.
Ceerwan Aziz / Reuters

Over the past month, Iraq has been beset by protests as hundreds of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets to express their discontent with the country’s dysfunctional and corrupt political process. The unrest culminated in the storming and occupation of the Iraqi parliament at the end of April by the followers of the radical anti-West cleric Muqtada al-Sadr after he gave a rallying speech in which he advocated for a “major popular revolution to stop corruptors.”

Sadr has become the voice of Iraq’s Shia underclass and has continued the legacy of his father, Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr. The senior Sadr established a significant following and social base during the 1990s, when Iraq’s destitute Shia population suffered both from the repression of the Baath regime and from UN-imposed sanctions. As his father did against the pre-2003, Baath-controlled state, Muqtada has mobilized hundreds of thousands of his supporters, and indeed many other Iraqis, against the current Iraqi state. And, like his father, he has confronted and challenged the legitimacy of his ruling Shia rivals, whom the Sadrist movement has historically denounced for their elitism.

The firebrand cleric has certainly proved that he is still a commanding figure who

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  • RANJ ALAALDIN specializes in Iraq’s Shia and Kurdish movements at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has conducted fieldwork throughout Iraq and the Middle East.
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