The son of a revered Shi'ite cleric slain under Saddam Hussein, Sadr has wide influence in the Shi'ite south and parts of Baghdad although he does not himself hold high clerical rank.The second of those two bolded big hints may be right out of the Hezboullah playbook, as some more perspicacious hawkish commentators have noticed, but is also the formula for every successful transition by an insurgency into a force of government from Sinn Fein to the Irgun. It's a no-brainer for anyone who understands that an insurgency needs it's society's support and if it gets enough support need no longer be simply an insurgency.
The first is more peculiarly Iraqi, but the notion that Sadr is aiming for an Iranian-backed religion-based coup against those elements of the Shiite-majority government in Iraq who actually are most backed by Iran is ludicrous. It's based on a demonising narrative that never was based in reality.
No, Sadr has no need to emulate Iran's Khomeini or even Iraq's Sistani when he has another role model to aspire to - his father. Sadr Senior was Iraq's senior Shiite cleric before Sistani and stayed in Iraq (to be martyred by Saddam) when the folks currently in top position's in Iraq's government all fled to Iran. It's a parallel which resonates with the nationalist and poor majority of Shiites, rather than the pro-Iran elite - and Sadr has deliberately set out to make it. As my colleague Eric Martin recently wrote:
Throughout these past few months, Sadr has indeed stayed aloof: above the fray as his deputies negotiate with the British, the Americans and even some Sunni militias in and around Baghdad. Similarly, he has been able to distance himself from the current Shiite government without completely severing ties or calling for a vote of no confidence. All while continuing to build his street cred, as it were, by taking a hard-line, anti-occupation rhetorical position. As Bartle Bull commented: "It is what we should expect from the canniest politician in Iraq: the rhetoric of the dispossessed, and the actions of an heir to power."