Supporters of a black-turbaned Shiite cleric are seeing red in the runup to Iraq’s May elections thanks to an unprecedented alliance with the once-powerful communist party.
“This alliance is a first in Iraq,” said Ibrahim al-Jaberi, a Sadrist official.
“It’s a revolution by Iraqis who want reforms — both secularists, like the communists, and by moderate Islamists.”
Jaberi, a 34-year-old cleric who sports a red beard along with his black turban and gown, heads every Friday to central Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to address hundreds of anti-government protesters.
“This alliance is no surprise because for more than two years we’ve been fighting together in every province against sectarianism,” he said.
Civil society activists launched the protest movement in July 2015, demanding reforms, better public services and an end to corruption.
“The demands weren’t at all sectarian — they were for the rule of law and for a civil state for the citizen,” said Raed Fahmi, secretary of the Iraqi Communist Party and an ex-science and technology minister.
“The important thing is that it allowed people from the Islamist movement and secularists to work together,” he said.
Open to all
Communists dominated Iraqi politics in the 1950s, but were crushed and marginalised under dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. Today, the party has just one member of parliament.
Shiite religious parties have come to play a greater role in the years since the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam.
Fahmi said the protest movement had given rise to cooperation “between people who, in principle, have nothing in common ideologically”.
“That then evolved into a political alliance,” he said.
His office was adorned with a red flag bearing the hammer and sickle alongside the Iraqi flag with the inscription: “God is Greatest”.
The alliance, dubbed “Marching towards Reform”, is made up of six mostly non-Islamist groups, including the communists, and a Sadr-backed technocratic party called Istiqama (“Integrity”).
Sadr has withdrawn his Ahrar bloc from parliament and urged its 33 MPs not to stand in the May poll, in order to make way for the joint list.
On Tahrir Square, women in black chador smiled but didn’t talk to their unveiled counterparts.
Nadia Nasser, a 43-year-old teacher in chador, said their goal was “to change the horrible leaders that have governed us for 14 years”.
“I’m sick of corruption. I’m in favour of this alliance because I want to see new faces,” she said.
Qassem Mozan, a 42-year-old day labourer, said the alliance was natural.
“The Sadrist movement is open to all parties and confessions,” he said “For me, we’re one people with a single flag.”
Yet 44-year-old populist Moqtada Sadr was not so ecumenical during the years following the 2003 invasion.
Sadrist militiamen also attacked bars and beat homosexuals until he ordered them to stop in 2016.
Published in Daily Times, March 12th 2018.