Thousands of Sadr supporters pray outside parliament to show support for populist leader
A supporter of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr carries his portrait after Friday prayers outside the parliament building in the green zone of the capital Baghdad. —AFP
Rival Iraqi factions took to the streets of Baghdad on Friday to call for a new government, with supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demanding a snap election and his Iran-backed opponents saying last October’s ballot should be honored .
Thousands of Sadr supporters prayed outside parliament to show their support for the populist leader who called on the judiciary to dissolve parliament by the end of next week.
Hours later, supporters of Iran-backed groups opposed to Sadr gathered at the edge of the fortified Green Zone, where parliament and foreign embassies are located, insisting they should form the new government based on the October elections.
Friday’s protest and counter-protest were the latest in a string of demonstrations that have raised fears of unrest if the political stalemate continues. Religious and political leaders command the loyalty of large numbers of people, and militias operate independently of the central government.
Sadr emerged as the big winner in the October elections, but failed to form a government without Iranian-backed parties. It has removed its lawmakers from parliament and is now preventing it from electing a new government and calling for early elections.
“You won’t break Iraq as long as Sadr is here,” an imam told the crowd from a large red stage set up in front of parliament. “There is no turning back on this revolution…and the people will not give up their demands.”
In the intense summer heat, the men pushed their way among the worshipers and doused them with cold water. Some carried portraits of Sadr and his father, also a prominent cleric, as well as Iraqi flags.
“We revolted and there is no turning back,” said Mohammed Elwan, 40, carrying a portrait of Sadr.
Hamid Hussain, a father of five, said: “I am here to call for snap elections and make sure that all corrupt faces are excluded from the next elections… I have found myself unemployed because of corrupt parties.
Sadr’s opponents also accuse him of corruption. They say his loyalists ran some of the most corrupt and dysfunctional government departments in Iraq.
Hours after the protest for Sadr, thousands gathered to call for the formation of a government from pro-Iranian factions in parliament that oppose Sadr.
Some carried portraits of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and an Iraqi militia commander who was killed alongside Soleimani in a US airstrike in Baghdad more two years.