Iraq: Pro-Sadr protesters occupy parliament ‘until further notice’
Thousands of supporters of the influential Shiite political leader Moqtada Sadr once again invaded the Iraqi Parliament on Saturday, which they intend to occupy until further notice, after a day of demonstrations in a country in the midst of a political crisis.
Waving Iraqi flags, portraits of Moqtada Sadr and religious signs, demonstrators crowded the entrance hall of Parliament before entering the hemicycle, waving victory signs and taking selfies in a good atmosphere child, reported AFP journalists on the spot.
The political deadlock is total in Iraq, pending the appointment of a new President and a Prime Minister ten months after the October 2021 legislative elections.
Kingmaker and troublemaker on the political scene, Moqtada Sadr has launched a campaign of maximum pressure against his opponents, rejecting their candidate for the post of head of government.
Three days after having already briefly occupied Parliament on Wednesday, the demonstrators announced “a sit-in (which will last) until further notice”, according to a brief statement from the Sadrist Current.
Lying on the carpet in the hallways, leaning against the pillars, some demonstrators were killing time on their cell phones, others were fanning themselves with cardboard boxes or had taken off their shirts to stay in their undershirts, according to a journalist from the AFP.
– Suspension of meetings –
Speaker of Parliament Mohamed al-Halboussi announced in a statement “the suspension of all parliamentary sessions until further notice”, calling on protesters to “preserve state properties”.
The demonstrators reject the candidacy for the post of Prime Minister of Mohamed Chia al-Soudani, considered close to the former head of government Nouri al-Maliki, historical enemy of Mr. Sadr.
In the gardens of Parliament, Sattar al-Aliawi, 47, said he was demonstrating against “a corrupt and incapable government” in reference to opponents of Mr. Sadr.
“We don’t want Mr. Soudani,” insists this official. “The people totally refuse the parties that have governed for 18 years. We will hold a sit-in under the dome of Parliament, we will sleep here,” he insists.
Former minister and ex-governor of province aged 52, Mr. Soudani is the candidate of the Coordination Framework, an alliance of pro-Iran Shiite factions bringing together the formation of Mr. Maliki and the representatives of Hachd al-Chaabi, ex-paramilitaries incorporated into the regular forces.
If he has decided today to maintain the pressure on his opponents, Mr. Sadr had nevertheless left them the task of forming a government, by having his 73 deputies resign in June in one of these about-faces of which he has the secret . The Sadrists then represented the first force within the Parliament of 329 deputies.
After the incursions into Parliament, the Coordination Framework in turn called on “the popular masses (…) to demonstrate peacefully to defend the State and its legitimacy”.
– Calls for “de-escalation” –
In total, at least 100 demonstrators and 25 members of the security forces were injured on Saturday according to the Ministry of Health, during the demonstrations interspersed with tear gas fire from the police and stone throwing from the protesters.
“The ongoing escalation is deeply worrying,” the UN assistance mission in Iraq said on Twitter, calling for “de-escalation”.
A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also called on the parties to “de-escalate the situation”. “The Secretary-General urges all parties and all actors to rise above their differences and to form, through peaceful and inclusive dialogue, an effective national government… without further delay,” the statement said. .
Throughout the Iraqi political spectrum, calls for dialogue and de-escalation have followed one another.
In a televised address, the Prime Minister, Moustafa al-Kazimi, who dispatches current affairs, called on the political blocs “to sit down to negotiate and agree”.
Hadi al-Ameri, who leads a faction of the influential Hashd al-Shaabi, the former pro-Iran paramilitaries, also called on the Sadrist Current and the Coordination Framework to favor “restraint (…), dialogue and constructive agreements to overcome differences”.
During the night from Friday to Saturday, supporters of Moqtada Sadr ransacked the offices of Mr. Maliki’s Daawa party in Baghdad, as well as the premises of the Courant Hikma, the formation of the Shiite politician Ammar al-Hakim, who is part of the Cadre coordination, according to a security source.
“The Sadrist Current has a problem with the idea that it is the Coordination Framework that will form a government. If it is not Mr. Soudani, if a second or third candidate is nominated, we can also expect objections”, Ammar al-Hakim recently lamented in an interview with the BBC Arabic antenna.
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