The head of the Mahdi Militia, Muqtada al-Sadr, has returned to Iraq following four years of religious study in Qom, Iran. The radical Shiite cleric was responsible for numerous American deaths throughout the Iraq war and was a driving force behind the worst of the sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007. Although he does not hold any official title in the Iraqi government, al-Sadr is a hugely influential figure who is expected to put pressure on Prime Minister al-Maliki to ensure the withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of this year.

Al-Sadr’s return highlights the widespread corruption within the Iraqi government. Although several news outlets and Sadrists claim that the cleric left Iraq merely to study Islam and boost his religious credentials, it is often overlooked that Sadr was (and technically still is) facing an arrest warrant for the murder of Abdul-Majid al-Khoei in 2003. Coincidentally, al-Sadr has returned to Iraq following a deal which has made his radical political movement part of al-Maliki’s new coalition. This has not pleased Hayder al-Khoei, the son of Abdul-Majid al-Khoei, who stated the following in the Guardian earlier today: “The fact that Sadr was not arrested upon his arrival this week says a lot about Iraq’s new government and its claimed dedication to integrity…The Iraqi government has a chance to send a strong signal to the Iraqi people by first enforcing the rule of law on itself before it does so on others. Or, it can rig the judicial file and whitewash this case before a kangaroo court in exchange for Sadr’s guarantee that he will calm down for the next four years and leave armed insurgency behind him for good.” Hayder al-Khoei’s article can be read in its entirety here

It will be important to watch the effect of al-Sadr’s return closely over the coming weeks and months. If he is not put on trial, people will view the new government as corrupt and “above the law.” It will also be interesting to see how Sadr conducts himself, as many believe that he is engaging in politics to boost his own power and control over Iraq. If he exerts considerable influence over al-Maliki while avoiding trial, Iraq and the United States will have difficult times ahead.

The following clip was released by Euronews: