Iraqi Cleric's Followers Set Up for Long Sit-in at Parliament 'Until Our Demands Are Met'

A day after thousands of followers of the influential Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr stormed Baghdad's Green Zone, they say they won't back down until new elections are held, prolonging the country's longest political deadlock

Reuters
Reuters
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Supporters of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr chant slogans inside Iraq's parliament, on Sunday.
Supporters of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr chant slogans inside Iraq's parliament, on Sunday.Credit: SABAH ARAR - AFP
Reuters
Reuters

Supporters of Iraqi populist leader Muqtada al-Sadr erected tents and prepared for an open-ended sit-in at Iraq's parliament on Sunday, in a move that could prolong political deadlock or plunge the country into fresh violence.

Thousands of the Shi'ite Muslim cleric's loyalists stormed into the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad on Saturday, taking over the empty parliament building for a second time in a week as his Shi'ite rivals, most of them close to Iran, try to form a government.

"We're staying until our demands are met, and we have many demands," a member of Sadr's political team told Reuters by phone, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to give statements to the media.

Supporters of Iraqi cleric Muqtada Sadr, protesting against a rival bloc's nomination for prime minister, rest inside Iraq's parliament in Baghdad's Green Zone, on Sunday.Credit: SABAH ARAR - AFP

Sadr's social-political Sadrist Movement is demanding that parliament be dissolved and new elections be held. An official with the movement added that they are demanding that federal judges also be replaced.

The Sadrist Movement came first in an October election as the largest party in parliament, making up around a quarter of its 329 members. Iran-aligned parties suffered heavy losses at the polls, with the exception of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an arch rival of Sadr.

Sadr failed to form a government free of those parties, however, beset by just enough opposition in parliament and federal court rulings that stopped him getting his choice of president and prime minister.

He withdrew his lawmakers from parliament in protests and has since used his masses of mostly impoverished Shi'ite followers to agitate through street protests.

The deadlock marks Iraq's biggest crisis in years. In 2017, Iraqi forces, together with a U.S.-led coalition and Iranian military support, defeated the Sunni Muslim extremist Islamic State group that had taken over a third of Iraq.

Two years later, Iraqis suffering from a lack of jobs and services took to the streets demanding an end to corruption, new elections and the removal of all parties – especially the powerful Shi'ite groups – that have run the country since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Government forces and Shi'ite militiamen shot dead hundreds of activists during the 2019 anti-government protests.

Sadr continues to ride the wave of popular opposition to his Iran-backed rivals, saying they are corrupt and serve the interests of Tehran, not Baghdad.

The mercurial cleric, however, maintains a firm grip over large parts of the state, and his Sadrist Movement has long run some of the most corrupt and dysfunctional government departments.

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