August 7, The Iran Project – The visit of leader of al-Sadr movement Muqtada al-Sadr to Saudi Arabia surprised many analysts and commentators. Those who follow events in the region are aware of the collaboration between Saudi Arabia and terrorists in Iraq as well as the knowledge of Muqtada al-Sadr of this cooperation. This visit, therefore, merely two weeks after the liberation of Mosul from Wahhabist ISIS was considered weird and unjustifiable.
Muqtada al-Sadr’s visit did not come as a surprise to people familiar with his personality who have analyzed Muqtada al-Sadr’s actions since the occupation of Iraq in 2003. Sadr is still benefiting from his father’s status and could gather a large following after the occupation of Iraq thanks to the reputation of his father. During the first parliamentarian election in Iraq he enjoyed a powerful fraction that was influential in the election of prime minister.
Iran against Sadr visit to Saudi Arabia
Sadr’s actions have caused opposition just as they have brought him supporters in the central regions of Iraq. The opposition berate him over his actions, speeches and behavior. It’s been said that resolved to visit Riyadh, Sadr wanted to coordinate his trip to Saudi Arabia with Tehran, expecting a positive answer. However, he faced categorical opposition to his “inappropriate visit.” Yet Sadr, whose movement depends on Iran for weapons and ammunition distanced himself from Allied Forces of Iran in Iraq, hoping to find new allies in Riyadh.
Regional commentators speculate different reasons for Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia and analyze it from their own perspective, and none of them can be outright rejected. But the upcoming parliamentarian election in Iraq in 2018 is the main reason that tempted Sadr to visit the dollar capital of the world. It doesn’t mean he is merely after money, but trying to hit two targets at once. By exiting the camp of Iran’s allies in Iraq, he wants to establish a close relationship with Saudis as a Shia leader.
Will Saudi allies unite under Sadr’s banner in Iraq?
Sadr has been advocating stances regarding Syria and al-Shabi which are opposite Tehran’s strategies. His opposition awarded him a red carpet in Riyadh so that he could unite Saudi allies in Iraq. However, Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia at a time when Saudi forces are massacring the Shia people of al-Awamiyah will not well for him. He has too many expectations of this trip and upon his return, he will again add fuel to disagreements by particularly reopening the case of corruption.
Sadr has an Arab nationalist approach as well. Regarding Iranians as non-Arab, same as Saddam al-Hussein, Sadr is resolved to emphasize Arab-centered approach. It is not clear how Sadr’s rivals or media close to Tehran will react to his visit, but as an active and influential movement in Iraq, Sadr would never be able to enjoy the charisma, popularity and influence of Seyyed Hassan Nasrollah.
A way for undermining Hashd al-Shabi
Saudis have no fear of Iraq’s army, but are terrified of Hashd al-Shabi, which they consider an extension of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), whose commanders have close ties to Iran. Saudi Arabia knows that Hashd al-Shabi will play the same role in Iraq’s future that IRGC played in Iran. Therefore, opposing this force is of utmost importance for Riyadh, yet they are unable to do so because of the popular nature of Hashd al-Shabi which is comprised of different ethnic and religious factions inside the country. An Iraqi who has ties with the Hashd al-Shabi is the best option for undermining this force. This is while Hashd al-Shabi is comprised of all Iraqi people including Shia, Sunni, Yazidi and Christians.
It seems that the US, that has had clashes with Jaysh al-Mahdi (close to Sadr) during their occupation of Iraq, now have invested on Sadr, making recommendations on his behalf to Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi. Sadr is going to carry out important missions over the course of next months. The nature of these missions, however, remains unknown.