One of the main criticisms made of the Sadrist Line by other political groups in Iraq is that its campaign against government corruption is hypocritical and insincere. Critics point out that the Sadrists oppose a government that their political wing, the al-Ahrar Bloc, is a part of, and they question the commitment of the Sadrists to stamping out corruption on the grounds that the movement itself contains corrupt members. As with other criticisms levelled against it, the Sadrist Line is taking measures in response.
In July 2016 the Sadrists announced the establishment of a commission against corruption to root out the undesirable elements within their own movement. It is headed by Dhiaa al-Asadi who also leads the al-Ahrar Bloc and is respected within the Sadrist Line as a principled man able to make tough decisions. Tip boxes were placed at the location of Friday prayers so that people could provide information about unethical behaviour of their fellow Sadrists in confidence.
The work of the commission is underway. From time to time it makes a decision and publishes a statement that names the guilty party and the activities they have perpetrated. Recent announcements have, for example, expelled an individual from the Sadrist Line because their corrupt activities have brought the wider movement into disrepute. These statements are shared widely on social media; it is a very public ostracism.
The Sadrists have long acknowledged the presence of criminals within their movement. Muqtada al-Sadr frequently stated that he was not responsible for the activities of criminals who committed violence in the name of the movement’s armed wing, the Mahdi Army, during the height of the insurgency against US occupation. Steps were taken to address this problem, although not before a lot of harm was done. Activists that I speak with today with are likewise aware that there are bad apples within the movement – naturally, they say, given its size and diversity – and believe that action must be taken to be rid of them.
Opponents and critics of the Sadrist Line will remain skeptical – and will be justified in raising questions about the rigour with which a political movement can investigate itself – but people within the movement seem to view the commission positively. Its establishment and ongoing work also demonstrates that the Sadrist leadership is intent on proving its reformist credentials and showing its critics that it is willing to look inwards and examine its own failings. Above all, it suggests that the Sadrist Line cares how other Iraqis perceive it and wishes to be seen as a legitimate and trustworthy actor on the nation’s political stage.