One of the most powerful figures in Iraq is leaving politics, and not quietly. On Sunday, Muqtada al-Sadr announced online that he was closing "all offices and libraries in all religious, social, and political fields" in a bid to protect his family's reputation, reports the Christian Science Monitor, which adds that Sadr's statement pointed to corruption within his own offices. Today, he made the move official in a scathing televised speech. "Politics has become a gateway for injustice and carelessness, for abuses by a dictator and tyrant," he said, a clear reference to PM Nouri al-Maliki.
The speech seemed designed to establish Sadr as an influential figure above "the everyday political fray," the AFP observes, as Sadr urged Iraqis to vote in April's elections and insisted he was still dedicated to them. "I will remain for all—not for Sadrists only." Sadr's party was a major force, and analysts say Maliki, who is gunning for a third term, will benefit from his exit come April. "It is a disaster for us, but we are obedient," one party official said. "Everyone is confused." But Gulf News warns that it would be "premature to write off Sadr completely," and notes that his exit coincides with a period of rising Shiite militia power. Writing for Time, Karl Vick writes that Sadr has bowed out before, and says "the opacity surrounding the rationale for Sunday’s announcement ... leaves open the possibility that he may not be done after all."