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NAJAF: Powerful Iraqi Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is laying the groundwork for a political comeback two years after a failed and ultimately deadly high-stakes move to form a government without his Shia rivals, multiple sources said.

His return, likely planned for the 2025 parliamentary election, could threaten the growing clout of rivals including Iraqi Shia parties and armed factions close to Iran, and undermine Iraq’s recent relative stability, observers say.

However, many among Iraqi’s majority Shia population are likely to welcome Sadr’s re-emergence, especially his masses of mostly pious and poor followers who view him as a champion of the downtrodden.

Reuters spoke to more than 20 people for this story, including Shia politicians in Sadr’s movement and in rival factions, clerics and politicians in Najaf, and government officials and analysts. Most spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

“This time, the Sadrist movement has stronger plans than the last time round to win more seats in order to form a majority government,” a former Sadrist lawmaker said, though the final decision to run has not officially been made.

Sadr won the 2021 parliamentary election but ordered his lawmakers to resign, then announced a “final withdrawal” from politics the next year after rival Shi’ite parties thwarted his attempt to form a majority government solely with Kurdish and Sunni Muslim parties.

A dominant figure in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion, self-styled nationalist Sadr has railed against the influence of both Iran and the United States in Iraq.

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