Moqtada al-Sadr won’t be Iraq’s next prime minister, but he may very well decide who is. It’s a striking outcome for the Shia cleric who forged a reputation as a radical in the insurgency he led against the U.S. after the invasion of 2003, and who then defined himself as an Iraqi nationalist through his defiance of Iran. Over this period, Sadr has become an insider in Iraqi politics, but ahead of the country’s Saturday parliamentary elections he fashioned himself into an anti-corruption crusader and political outsider by building a coalition that includes communists, Sunnis, and political independents. His al-Sairoon Coalition (The Marchers) finished first in the vote, ensuring his relevance for years to come.
Al-Sairoon’s performance suggests that Iraq, which has only recently emerged from a brutal conflict against ISIS, might be tired of the political class that has governed the country since its first parliamentary elections in 2005. What’s not clear, however, is whether Sadr, whose brand is predicated on protest and opposition, can evolve into a constructive force in Iraqi politics.