Al-Sader orders the occupation of the Parliament of Iraq



At least a hundred demonstrators and 25 members of the security forces have been injured during Saturday’s protests

Baghdad wakes up with its sights set on the Green Zone, where the Parliament is located, which for the second time in 72 hours the followers of Muqtada al-Sader have assaulted. Thousands of people loyal to the Shia cleric have spent the night there and will not move until they receive the order from their political and spiritual leader. With hardly any resistance from the security forces, the protesters crossed the bridges over the Tigris, entered what is, on paper, the safest area in the country, shouting against corruption, the appointment of the new prime minister and interference of Iran in the internal affairs of Iraq. At least 125 people were injured and Mohamed al-Halbousi, president of the Chamber, reported the suspension “until further notice” of the sessions.

The interior of an enclosure born with the spirit of managing the lives of all Iraqis, of all confessions and ethnic groups, has become a sanctuary to Al-Sader and Shi’ism. Protesters carry portraits of Muqtada, his father, Grand Ayatollah Mohamed Sadeq al-Sader, and his uncle, Mohamed Baqer al-Sader, both executed by Saddam Hussein, and use the corridors to emulate the marches of the Ashura holiday , when they hit each other and cry when remembering the death of Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. “The protesters announce a sit-in until further notice,” Al-Sader’s movement said in a brief statement carried by the state news agency INA.

This 49-year-old cleric won the October elections and won 73 seats, but in recent months he has been unable to weave the complicity necessary to achieve a sufficient majority to form a government due to his rivalry with the rest of the Shiite forces. Given the lack of support, the cleric ordered his deputies to leave the Chamber a few weeks ago and now he is proposing a pulse against the system from the streets. The two times that the rest of the political forces have proposed the appointment of Mohamed al-Sudani as the new chief executive, Al-Sader has boycotted the process and ordered his own to storm Parliament. If on Wednesday the protesters received the order to leave the Chamber a few hours later, on this second occasion it seems that they have entered to stay.

arm wrestling between shiites

“Twenty years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq must choose between a large militia or several small militias, but no less corrupt and bloody. The Iraqis deserve better », reflects analyst Hayder al-Khoei on his Twitter account. Al-Sader was at the head of the Army of the Mahdi, scourge of the United States during the first years of the occupation, the formation is now officially “frozen”, but the cleric has the Peace Brigades. In front of him now he has the political arms of several pro-Iranian militias that have grown in the shadow of the war against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.

In these two decades, Iraqis have suffered three wars, including the brutal sectarian clash between Sunnis and Shiites, and now they face a fourth due to the head-on clash between Shiites. This is the majority sect of Islam in the country and during these years its parties have governed based on reaching consensus, but this time the agreement seems very far away and the system is blocked. Al-Sader stands as a defender of Iraqi nationalism and asks Iran to stop its enormous interference; the rest of the Shia parties, however, appreciate the role of the Islamic republic and remember its role in the victory against the caliphate established by IS. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called the occupation of Parliament in Baghdad “sedition.”

Given the unpredictability of the situation, the president of the Kurdish autonomous region, Nechirvan Barzani, called on all parties to hold a meeting in Kurdistan to try to overcome internal differences. The appeal went unanswered. Experts such as Mohamed Shummary believe that the end of this new crisis “will take time and will lead to other early elections. My concern is that we are repeating the Lebanese experience of not having a full-term government for a long time.”

The EU and the UN call for calm

The situation in Iraq worries the European Union, which this Sunday issued a statement expressing its concern about the wave of protests. “We are concerned about the ongoing protests and their possible escalation in Baghdad. We urge all parties to exercise restraint to avoid further violence,” they report from Brussels. The organization “invites the political forces to solve the problems through a constructive political dialogue within the constitutional framework,” adds the note, which ends by recalling the “right to peaceful protest” although always from the “respect for the laws and state institutions”.

The UN has also reacted to the destabilization of the country. Thus, its secretary general, António Guterres, has called for “immediate measures to reduce tension” and the formation of “an effective national government, through inclusive and peaceful dialogue, that can promptly comply with the demands for reform.”

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