Iran sends a powerful signal to counter Iraqi nationalist trend

Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei (L), Sadrist Movement Leader Muqtada al-Sadr (C), and Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani attend a mourning ceremony on the Day of Ashura in Tehran, Iran, Sept. 11, 2019.

It is difficult to understate the symbolism of Iraqi populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr sitting between Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani during Ashura ceremonies in Tehran this week. That spot is preferred seating, reserved for the most esteemed VIPs of the Islamic Republic, like Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Sadr these days might seem an unlikely choice for such a place of honor. He is known mostly for his Iraqi nationalist and often anti-Iranian positions. But Sadr is a complicated, sophisticated player. His family connections are deeply intertwined with Iran’s Islamic revolutionaries, and his relationships in Iran were never severed. He lived in Qom for years, and he knows how to navigate Iran’s clerical and political elites.

While Sadr being in Iran for Ashura shouldn’t be a shocker, the choreography of it all is also about Tehran sending a signal to Iraq and the region that it remains the key broker in Iraqi politics. And that requires a US response.

SOURCE: Al Monitor