Muqtada al-Sadr, perhaps the second most influential Shiite leader in Iraq after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, on Thursday urged Shiite militia forces to be “patient” and stand down because the “crisis is over” between the U.S. and Iran.
“I call on the Iraqi factions to be deliberate, patient, and not to start military actions, and to shut down the extremist voices of some rogue elements until all political, parliamentary and international methods have been exhausted,” he said.
Sadr, who put his own militia band back together again after the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani, promoted a five-step plan for stabilizing Iraq after both Washington and Tehran issued de-escalation statements on Wednesday.
Step one of the plan called for forming a new Iraqi government within the next 15 days. Baghdad has technically been without one since Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi resigned in November, although Mahdi and most of his officials still occupy their offices. Sadr himself presides over the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament.
Sadr’s plan called for all foreign troops, which he denounced as “invaders,” to leave Iraq. His own Mahdi Army has a history of attacking American troops during the occupation of Iraq. He disbanded the Mahdi Army in 2008 but reactivated it last week, declaring himself the “head of Iraqi national resistance” and ordering his troops to “be on full readiness to protect Iraq.”
Interestingly, Sadr also called for the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the alliance of Baghdad-sanctioned Shiite militia groups formed to defeat ISIS, to close all of their bases.
The PMF was thoroughly penetrated and dominated by Iran thanks to the efforts of Soleimani. Sadr has occasionally been critical of Iranian influence in Iraq and sympathetic to the anti-Iran protest movement, although he also made a surprise visit to Iran in September to join Soleimani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a religious service, suggesting a reconciliation.
It is unclear if Sadr’s demand for foreign troops to leave Iraq would include Iranians. His advice for PMF militia to shut their bases was based on concerns that they could become “hot targets” for international military action, not discomfort with the PMF serving as Iran’s proxy army in Iraq.
Sadr is definitely not a fan of U.S. President Donald Trump. In a Twitter post on Monday, he called Trump the “son of gambling halls,” warned that his weapons are “weaker than mosquito bites” — a judgment Soleimani would probably disagree with — and said Trump’s “voice and tweets are more strident than the sound of a donkey.”
“Your intentions have become clear today. He who wanted to liberate us yesterday, today wants us on our knees,” he said, taunting Trump that military involvement in Iraq would become a “new swamp” like Vietnam.