Iraqi cleric’s followers occupied parliament again, demanding reforms

BASRA, Iraq. Iraqi protesters loyal to the nationalist Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr filled the fortified green zone of Baghdad to second time in a week on Saturday to prevent the formation of a new government. They clambered over concrete barriers and pushed past security forces to enter the Iraqi parliament, taking empty representative seats and shouting their support for Mr. Trump. Sadr: “Son of Muhammad, lead us wherever you want.”

Their move effectively made it impossible for MPs to convene to form a government, a move the political parties had tentatively scheduled for Saturday.

Occupation of the Parliament d. Sadr’s followers looked dangerous, like a government coup, not least because during the day some of his supporters briefly moved into the building where the judges’ offices are located. On social media, some Iraqi analysts expressed fear that the mob would target Mr. Trump’s homes. Political opponents of Sadr.

Earlier this summer Sadr requested Members of Parliament loyal to him resigned after a federal court ruled that two-thirds of parliament must agree with the president and his coalition could not garner enough votes for either man. mr. Sadr thought his rivals would ask him to return, but instead the next largest coalition, which includes Shia groups that had or had armed elements linked to Iran, hastened to fill the empty seats with their candidates and prepared to form a government.

It is the sectarian nature of the current tension that makes it so dangerous, said Abbas Kadeem, director of the Atlantic Council’s Iraq Initiative.

“We used to have sectarian disputes in Iraq — Shia Muslims vs. Sunnis, Arabs vs. Kurds — but now we’re moving to a more dangerous place that is really intra-Shiite, intra-Kurdish, intra-sectarian. “Sunni rivalry,” he said.

“People tolerate disputes with others, but disputes within a sect or ethnic group are always a struggle for the soul of the group itself, for who speaks on behalf of the group,” he added.

mr. Sadr, who was in charge Shia opposition to the US occupation of Iraq, supported the creation of an armed wing known as the Mahdi Army, which participated in the targeted killings of US troops as well as the execution of Iraqis considered “traitors”. However, Mr. Sadr later abandoned this approach and learned how to mobilize millions of Iraqis loyal to him and his legendary clerical family, sending them into the streets when he wanted to apply political pressure.

Many of his supporters felt like outsiders, and Mr. Sadr fanned these feelings, counting on their passion, loyalty and huge numbers of people to force those in power to meet his demands, or at least consider them.

mr. Sadr, however, did not quite accurately assess the latest political situation. Since he cannot reverse his decision to leave the government and is now an outsider, he has taken the option left to him: send legions of his supporters to stop the creation of a new government and demand reforms and new elections that could once again bring his group power into government.

“The protesters have made several demands that I consider dangerous,” Iraqi political analyst Sarmad al-Bayati said in an interview.

“This could cause unrest among Iraqis; they might even get support from the Tishrin movement,” he said, referring to thousands of protesters from different walks of life who came together in October 2019 to demand that the government tackle unemployment, curb corruption, supply electricity, and end the rampant power of Iran-linked armed groups. Their protests immobilized city centers from Baghdad to southern Iraq; More than 500 protesters were killed by security forces and armed groups, and more than 19,000 were injured, according to the UN.

Among the demands that could be a call for unification are: amending the constitution to change the Iraqi government from a parliamentary to a presidential system; appoint an interim government responsible for constitutional changes and agreeing to early elections; and bring corrupt officials to justice, Mr. al-Bayati said.

These demands have been listed by people close to Mr. Sadr in statements or tweets in recent days.

The UN Mission in Iraq issued a statement calling on politicians on all sides to calm the situation. “The ongoing escalation is of deep concern,” the statement said. “The voices of reason and wisdom are critical to preventing further violence. All involved are encouraged to de-escalate for the benefit of all Iraqis.”

There were also calls for calm from some of Mr. Sadr’s political opponents, while others sounded more confrontational.

Health Ministry officials said there were 125 wounded by mid-afternoon. There were reports that tear gas and stun bombs were used to disperse crowds, but government security forces have so far been largely held back at the request of acting Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who coordinated with his security forces. and protesters to avoid clashes and accusations that he suppresses freedom of expression.

Some of the roots of this week’s unrest go back to the 2019 protests, which raised the profile of many activists but ultimately did little to reform. Initially, these demonstrations were primarily advocated by civil society activists and anti-corruption advocates who opposed Iran-linked militias in Iraq, as well as the government’s failure to provide jobs and persistent corruption. They were joined by Mr. Sadr supporters, who also claimed to be strongly opposed to corruption, although analysts say the Sadrist-controlled ministries are also rife with kickbacks and other corruption.

While Sadr also has ties to Iran and several of his close relatives live there. He is promoting an Iraqi nationalist agenda that asserts his power and that of Iraq, not loyalty to Iran.

The 2019 protests led to the resignation of Prime Minister Adil Mehdi and the election of Mr Kadhimi to replace him until early elections are held.

However, these elections did not lead to a consensus on the country’s new political leadership or reforms. Now there is no figure, neither Shiite, nor Sunni, nor Kurdish, who could respond to the demands of the people through the disparate religious, ethnic and political identities of Iraq, said the head of the Atlantic Council, Kadhim.

According to him, the Iraqi summer heat exacerbates the instability of the situation. “Every time there are masses of people on the streets, the risk of violence is 70 percent,” he said. “Hot, summer, July, Iraq; you don’t need more than 20 people in one place.”