Basra, Iraq – Iraqi protesters loyal to nationalist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr pour into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone second time in a week Saturday to prevent the formation of a new government. They jumped over concrete barriers, past security forces into Iraq’s parliament, filled vacant delegate seats, and chanted in support of Mr. Sadr: “Son of Mohammed, take us wherever you want.”
Their move effectively prevented members of parliament from calling together to form a government, a step the party was due to take on Saturday.
Occupying parliament by Mr Sadr’s followers looks as dangerous as a government takeover, especially since some of his supporters briefly moved to the building housing the judge’s office over time. On social media, some Iraqi analysts expressed concern that crowds would target the homes of Sadr’s political opponents.
Earlier this summer, Mr. Sadr ask Members of parliament loyal to him resigned after a federal court ruled that two-thirds of parliament must agree on the president, while his coalition could not get enough votes for anyone. Mr. Sadr believes his rivals will demand his return, but the next largest coalition, which includes Shiite groups that have or had Iran-linked militants, hastily filled the vacancies with their own candidates and is preparing Form a government.
It is the sectarian character of the current tensions that makes it so dangerous, said Abbas Kadim, director of the Atlantic Council’s Iraq Initiative.
“In Iraq, we used to have disputes across sectarian lines – Shiites vs. Sunnis, Arabs vs. Kurds – but now we’re going to a more dangerous place, which is within Shiites, Kurds Internal, internal-Sunni competition,” he said.
He added: “People tolerate strife with others, but strife within a sect or race is always a battle for the soul of the group itself, who speaks for the group.”
lead principal mr sadr Shiite opposition For the US occupation of Iraq, it supported the creation of an armed faction called the Mahdi Army, which was involved in targeted killings of US troops and executions of Iraqis deemed “traitors”. However, Mr. Sadr later abandoned the practice and learned how to bring millions of Iraqis loyal to him and his legendary cleric family to the streets when he wanted to exert political pressure.
Many of his supporters feel like outsiders, and Sadr has fanned those sentiments, relying on their enthusiasm, loyalty and sheer numbers to compel those in power to meet his demands, or at least consider their demands.
However, Mr. Sadr did not accurately judge the recent political situation. Since he was unable to undo his decision to quit the government and is now an outsider, he took advantage of the options left to him: sending his legions of supporters to block the creation of a new government and demanding reforms and re-elections that could once again bring his bloc to power brought into the government.
“The protesters have made several demands that I think are dangerous,” Salmad Bayati, an Iraqi political analyst, said in an interview.
“It could cause excitement among Iraqis; they might even be supported by the Tishreen movement,” he said, referring to thousands of protesters People from different backgrounds came together in October 2019 to demand that the government tackle unemployment, curb corruption, provide electricity and end the unbridled power of Iran-linked armed groups. Their protests have immobilized cities from Baghdad to southern Iraq. According to the United Nations, more than 500 protesters were killed by security forces and armed groups, and more than 19,000 were injured.
Demands that could be a rallying point include amending the constitution to change the Iraqi government from a parliamentary to a presidential system; appointing a caretaker government charged with amending the constitution and agreeing to hold early elections; and holding corrupt officials accountable, Mr. Al-Bayati said.
Those close to Sadr have listed the demands in statements or tweets in recent days.
The UN mission in Iraq issued a statement urging all political actors to calm the situation. “The continued escalation is deeply concerning,” the statement said. “A voice of reason and wisdom is essential to prevent further violence. All actors are encouraged to de-escalate for the benefit of all Iraqis.”
Some of Sadr’s political opponents also called for calm, while others sounded more confrontational.
A total of 125 people had been injured as of 3 p.m., health ministry officials said. There have been reports of the use of tear gas and noise bombs to try to disperse the crowd, but so far the government’s security forces have been largely restrained at the request of Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa Kadimi, who Coordinated with his security forces and protesters avoided confrontation and accusations of suppressing free speech.
Some of the roots of this week’s unrest can be traced back to the 2019 protests, which raised the profile of many activists but ultimately did little for reform. The demonstrations were initially largely supported by civil society activists and anti-corruption advocates who opposed Iran-linked militias in Iraq and the government’s failure to provide jobs and curb corruption. They are also joined by supporters of Mr. Sadr, who also claim to be vehemently opposed to corruption – although analysts say the sector controlled by Sadr is also riddled with kickbacks and other corruption.
While Mr. Sadr also has ties to Iran, where some of his close relatives also live, he has pushed an Iraqi nationalist agenda that asserts his power and that of Iraq rather than allegiance to Iran.
Protests in 2019 led to the resignation of Prime Minister Adil Mehdi and the selection of Mr Kadimi to succeed him until snap elections are held.
However, these elections did not result in a consensus on new political leadership or reforms in the country. The Atlantic Council’s Mr Kadim said no figure, whether Shiite, Sunni or Kurdish, could now answer people’s demands across Iraq’s different religious, ethnic and political identities.
Iraq’s sweltering summer heat has added to the instability, he said. “Anytime there’s a large group of people on the street, the risk of violence is 70 percent,” he said. “It’s hot, it’s summer, it’s July, this is Iraq; you don’t want more than 20 people in one place.”