Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr has announced that he will not run in the upcoming parliamentary elections in October. Al-Sadr led the Sairoun political coalition in the 2018 elections, winning 54 seats out of 329. In addition to his party, the coalition included the Communist Party, the Youth Movement for Change Party and the Progress and Reform Party. The cleric heads the Sadrist Movement, a Shi'a political party linked to the Al-Mahdi Army, an Iraqi militia founded in 2003 to counter the US invasion. This military organisation was disbanded in 2008, although Al-Sadr recently announced its revival.
In addition to not standing as a candidate in the elections, al-Sadr has declared that he will not support any of the parties running. The Sadrist leader also stressed the existence of "an international diabolical plan" against Iraq, according to the Iraqi media Al-Sumaria. The Shiite cleric has warned about the evolution of the country, assuring that it could reach a situation similar to that of Syria or Afghanistan, countries that he considers "have been victims of internal, regional and international policies". For Al-Sadr, the main problem in the Arab country is the corruption of the elites, which he has criticised on many occasions. "All politicians in Iraq are incapable or negligent or boast of corruption," said al-Sadr.
Nationalism and the fight against the foreign presence in Iraq has helped the Shiite cleric to gain thousands of followers in the country. In addition to being a key figure against US intervention, in 2014 he led the Peace Brigades militia in the fight against Daesh. Al-Sadr has also opposed Iranian influence.
Shortly after Al-Sadr's announcement, Hassan al-Kaabi, deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, also withdrew his candidacy for the October elections. "In obedience to what was said in the speech of His Eminence Leader Muqtada al-Sadr, may God honour him, I announce my withdrawal of candidacy for the upcoming parliamentary elections," al-Kaabi wrote on Twitter. "May God protect Iraq and its people," he added.
These early elections are one of the demands on Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi from the October 2019 protests. However, these elections should have been held last June, but in January it was agreed to postpone them to 10 October 'due to the end of the registration period for political alliances and the small number of registered alliances'.
Al-Sadr's announcement and his refusal to support neither the candidates nor the future government joins other citizens' movements that are also calling for a boycott of the elections. "As long as the armed groups are in power, we will not participate," protesters said at the last national protests in May.
Iraq, in addition to a severe economic and political crisis, faces a major security problem. Since the protests began in 2019, dozens of activists have been killed in cases in which justice has subsequently failed to act. As a result, Iraqi citizens once again took to the streets under the slogan "Who killed me?" and demanded real justice from Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi. The killing of activists has not stopped a few months before the elections. The United Nations has reported the targeted killings of 32 "protesters and critics" between October 2019 and May 2021, while 20 others are missing.
The coronavirus pandemic has also exposed weaknesses in the country's healthcare system. Last April, an explosion at a COVID-19 centre in Baghdad killed 82 people and injured more than 100. A few days ago, a similar episode occurred again at a hospital in Nasiriya. At least 90 people have been killed, although this figure is likely to rise due to the high number of injured.