Sadiq, a former insurance company employee in Bahrain and current graduate student in Baghdad, is no independent.
"Everyone knows the direction of the Free List," said Sadiq, 36, who grew up in Sadr City. "Every one of us has a relationship with the Sadr office."
Instead of participating in the elections, Sadr has ordered his followers to vote for independent candidates. It is a tactic he employed successfully to gain political clout in the 2005 elections, wielding street power to back independent candidates while striving to preserve his image as a cleric standing above politics.
Today, top Sadrist officials concede that the strategy is largely one of survival. Since a government offensive against the Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City last year, Sadr's political influence has waned as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's stature has grown. With more than 2 million Shiites in Sadr City, the Sadrists hope to shift the balance of power again, starting from the enclave where Sadr derives his greatest legitimacy.
"We are optimistic," intoned Sadiq, a thin man with a wispy beard. "The movement of Sayed Moqtada Sadr will never become an absentee movement. This is a part of re-energizing their activity."
The quest for votes in Sadr City illuminates how fractured Shiites have become since the 2005 elections, which ushered Shiite religious parties into political power after centuries of Sunni dominance. The outcome of Saturday's elections, in the days and weeks ahead, will provide a look into potential alliances among Shiite parties.
On the walls and storefronts of Sadr City, images of nearly every Shiite candidate are present, scores more than in the previous elections. Over there is cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Sadr's main rival. Over here is Jawad al-Bolani, Iraq's interior minister, who launched his own party. There are secular Shiites, Shiite Kurds and female candidates in black abayas.
On a white banner next to a building shattered in an American airstrike, Maliki is depicted next to Sadr's white-bearded father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, who was assassinated along with two sons during Saddam Hussein's rule. Between their portraits is a promise from the government, that it will provide Sadr City with solar-powered streetlights.
But most of the posters belong to the Free List and the Integrity and Rebuild List, the two parties Sadr supports. The Free List's poster depicts a cane wrapped in an Iraqi flag breaking ropes slipped around two fists. A large number 284 is painted in blue: the party's number on the voting cards. Underneath are words uttered by the elder Sadr: "I liberated you, so don't let anybody enslave you after me."
"All these other posters are bought with money," declared Ahmed Chalub, a Mahdi Army commander who attended Friday prayers outside the Sadr office. "They give money to hang their posters. But 284, our list? We hang the posters up with our souls and with our blood."
From his pulpit, Mudhafar al-Mussawi urged Sadr's followers to head to the polls Saturday and warned of possible fraud. The action violated election rules designating Friday a "silent" day of no campaigning. But no one seemed to mind.
"If you don't go to vote, your forms will be filled by parties working against you," bellowed Mussawi, who wore a black turban signifying his descent from the prophet Muhammad.
"Now, there are rumors being spread that Sayed Moqtada Sadr is against the vote. Be careful. Don't believe this. We are still supporting the two independent lists."
Men began to chant in Arabic: "Aash, aash, aash Sadr" -- "Long live, Long live, Long live Sadr."
"We will always be victorious," they said.
After the sermon, many followers said they would vote for either party -- not just because Sadr had ordered them to do so but because they have seen little progress under Maliki's ruling coalition.
"These people don't help the poor. Nothing has changed since the last elections. There are no paved roads, no good electricity," said Raad Naji, 28, who said he was unemployed. "We are deprived of everything in life."
Mohammed Jalil, 35, said he would never again vote for Shiites who lived in exile while Hussein was in power, referring to Maliki and other top leaders of his Dawa party as well as to Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. "We did not expect Dawa to come back and work only for their own interests," Jalil said.
Hassna Daish Alewi, an elderly woman in a black abaya, clutched a pamphlet as she came out of the Sadr office. "They asked me to vote for this man," she said, pointing at the face on the pamphlet.
It was that of Ali Mohammed Muslin, an employee in the Sadr office. He is part of the Free List. On the back of the pamphlet was a picture of Sadr's father, even though electoral laws prohibit the use of religious symbols in the campaign. In the last elections, powerful Shiite clerics strongly encouraged support for the current ruling coalition.
"It is my religious duty," mumbled Alewi, walking away after she was told the voting would take place Saturday.
In 2005, despite boycotting the elections, Sadr-affiliated politicians managed to win 32 parliamentary seats and three seats on Baghdad's provincial council, the equivalent of a U.S. state legislature.
Sadr became a kingmaker by propelling Maliki into the leadership of the government.
But in April 2007, Sadr pulled out of the government because Maliki had refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. That summer, Sadr imposed a cease-fire on his Mahdi Army in an effort to reform it and position himself as a would-be unifier of Iraq. Since then, his top aides say, he has been in the Iranian city of Qom studying theology to bolster his religious credentials.
Sadr's movement controls a vast network of Shiite mosques in poor urban neighborhoods, including Sadr City, that could generate high voter turnout Saturday.
His Shiite rivals have accused him of deceiving voters fed up with religious parties and the status quo in an effort to regain power.
"They claim they are independents, but this is a Sadrist list," said Khalid Jawad al-Jashamy, a Supreme Council candidate in the Shiite spiritual capital of Najaf. "We know every one of them. They are members of the Mahdi Army and the Sadrist trend," or movement.
The Free List candidates acknowledge having strong ties to the Sadrists but deny there are militia members in their party. But if elected, they say, they will push for Sadrist causes such as a speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces.
"Regarding the security issue, we want this to be in Iraqi hands entirely, without any role for the American forces," said Hussein Aziz Kati Hadrawi, a Free List candidate.
Many Sadr followers are not voting for his two parties. In interviews, they said they preferred former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari, who once headed the Dawa party but is now a critic of Maliki.
"Jafari has huge popularity in Sadr City, even from Sadr supporters," said Aqil Chasib Finjan, a Mahdi Army fighter who is a candidate on Jafari's list.
Some predict an alliance between Sadr's loyalists and Jafari after the elections.
Others say the Sadrists might align themselves with Maliki, despite his attacks on their movement, in an effort to weaken the Supreme Council, which the Sadrists view as a greater enemy. Tensions are growing between Maliki and the Supreme Council, whose members fear his growing clout.
Some leaders are playing down their chances of winning seats, predicting that their Shiite rivals who control the nation's security forces will commit fraud and deprive them of seats. "Many of our supporters are in prison or displaced. Or they are afraid to vote," said Salman al-Furaiji, the head of the Sadr office in Sadr City.
"What we are going to get on Saturday is a small portion of the Sadr movement."
Special correspondents Saad Sarhan in Najaf and Zaid Sabah in Baghdad contributed to this report.