Followers of Iraqi Cleric Occupy Parliament Again, Demanding Reforms

BASRA, Iraq – Iraqi protesters loyal to nationalist Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr have gathered in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone to second time in a week on Saturday to prevent the formation of a new government. They widened the concrete barriers and pushed past security forces into the Iraqi Parliament, filling the empty seats of representatives and chanting in support of Mr. Sadr: “Son of Mohammed, take them I go wherever you want.”

Their move has prevented members of Parliament from convening to form a government, a step political parties had expected on Saturday.

Sadr’s takeover of Parliament looks dangerously like a government takeover, especially because on that day, some of his supporters moved into the building where the judge’s offices are located. a short time. On social media, some Iraqi analysts expressed concern that crowds would target the homes of Mr. Sadr’s political opponents.

Earlier this summer, Mr. Sadr request Members of Congress loyal to him resigned after a federal court ruled that two-thirds of Parliament must agree on a president and his coalition could not gather enough votes for any which individual. Mr. Sadr thought his opponents would demand his return, but instead the next largest coalition, consisting of Shiite groups that were or once had armed elements linked to Iran, folded. withdraw to fill the vacancies with its own candidates and prepare to form an administration.

Abbas Kadhim, Director of the Iraq Initiative for the Atlantic Council, said it is the intra-sectarian character of current tensions that makes it dangerous.

“In Iraq we used to have sectarian disputes – Shia Muslims versus Sunnis, Arabs versus Kurds – but now we are moving to a more dangerous place, actually between Shia, among the Kurds, internally. -Sunni is competitive,” he said.

He added: “People can accept disputes with others, but a dispute within a sect or an ethnic group is always a battle for the soul of the group itself, for who speaks for the group.

Mr. Sadr, the leader The Shia Opposition related to the US occupation of Iraq, assisted in the establishment of an armed wing known as the Mahdi Army, which engaged in the targeted killings of US troops as well as the execution of Iraqis who were captured. considered a “traitor”. However, Mr. Sadr later withdrew from that approach and learned how the governor of millions of Iraqis was loyal to him and his longtime clerical family, by kicking them out into the streets when he wanted to put pressure on him. politics.

Many of his supporters felt like outsiders and Mr. Sadr fancied those feelings, relying on their passion, loyalty and sheer numbers to force those in power to respond to their love. your requests, or at least consider them.

However, Mr. Sadr did not accurately assess the most recent political situation. Since he cannot undo his decision to withdraw from the government and is now an outsider, he has taken advantage of the option left to him: send his legion of supporters to prevent the formation of a government. new and demanding reform and new elections could once again bring back his group power in government.

“The protesters have made some demands that I think are dangerous,” Sarmad Al-Bayati, an Iraqi political analyst, said in an interview.

“It can cause excitement for the Iraqi people; they can even get support from the Tishreen movement,” he said, referring to thousands of protesters from different backgrounds who gathered in October 2019 to demand that the government tackle unemployment, curb corruption, provide electricity and end the uncontrolled power of armed groups have ties to Iran. Their protests have 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 United Nations.

Among the demands that could be a rallying call are: constitutional amendments to change the Iraqi government from parliamentary to presidential; anoint a governing government responsible for constitutional changes and agree to hold early elections; and hold corrupt officials accountable, Al-Bayati said.

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

The United Nations Mission to Iraq issued a statement calling on political elements on all sides to calm the situation. “The ongoing escalation is deeply concerning,” the statement said. “Voices of reason and wisdom are crucial to preventing further violence. All parties 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 that by midday, 125 people had been injured. It was reported that tear gas and noise bombs were used to try to disperse the crowd, but government security forces have so far largely been limited at the request of Prime Minister Mustapha al-Kadhimi , who coordinated with his security forces. and protesters to avoid confrontations and accusations that he is suppressing freedom of expression.

Some of the roots of this week’s unrest lie in the protests in 2019, which raised many activists’ lists but ultimately achieved little on the path to reform. Those protests were initially supported mainly by civil society activists and anti-corruption advocates who oppose Iran-aligned militias in Iraq as well as the government’s fail to provide jobs and prevent corruption. They were joined by supporters of Mr Sadr, who also proclaimed their strong opposition to corruption – although analysts say ministries controlled by Sadists are also rife with scandals. results and other corruption.

While Mr. Sadr also has ties to Iran and some of his close family members live there, he has promoted an Iraqi nationalist agenda that asserts his power and that of Iraq, instead of allegiance to Iran.

Protests in 2019 resulted in the resignation of prime minister Adil Mehdi and Mr Kadhimi choosing to replace him until early elections are held.

However, those elections did not produce consensus on a new political leadership for the country or reforms. Mr. Kadhim of the Atlantic Council said there is currently no figure, Shia, Sunni or Kurdish, with access across Iraq’s various religions, ethnicities and political identities to respond to requests. of people.

Adding to the precariousness of the situation, he added, was the scorching heat of summer in Iraq. “Whenever you have a large crowd on the street, the risk of violence is 70 percent,” he said. “It’s hot, it’s summer, it’s July, it’s Iraq; you don’t want more than 20 people in one place. “

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