Hundreds of Demonstrators Camp at Iraq Parliament for a Second Day!
Supporters of the powerful Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr have set up tents and are getting ready for a long sit-in at the Iraqi parliament. This will worsen the political standoff that has been going on for months.
After the elections in October did not lead to the formation of a government, supporters of al-Sadr forced their way into the legislative chamber for the second time in as many days on Saturday.
“The demonstrators announce a sit-in until further notice,” al-Sadr’s movement said in a brief statement to journalists by state news agency INA.
Even though there have been a lot of talks between different groups, Iraq still doesn’t have a new government nearly 10 months after the elections in October.
Since Saddam Hussein was overthrown by an invasion led by the United States in 2003, it has been hard to put together a government in the oil-rich country.
Supporters of al-Sadr, who once led a militia against the US and Iraqi government forces, oppose a rival, pro-Iran Shia bloc’s pick for prime minister – Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. Usually, the post goes to someone from the Shia majority in Iraq.
Sattar al-Aliawi, a civil servant who is 47 years old, was one of the protesters. He said, “We don’t want Mr. al-Sudani.”
He told the AFP news agency he was protesting against “a corrupt and incapable government” and would “sleep here” in the gardens of parliament.
“The parties that have run the country for the past 18 years are rejected by the people,” he said.
Sunday morning, during the Muslim month of Muharram, the protesters chanted religious songs and ate together.
“We thought the best would happen, but the worst did. Abdelwahab al-Jaafari, 45, told AFP that the politicians who are in parliament now haven’t done anything for the people.
Soup, hard-boiled eggs, bread, and water were given to the protesters by people who wanted to help.
Some people spent the night in the parliament, sleeping on the marble floors with blankets. Others sat on plastic mats under palm trees in the gardens.
Al-group Sadr’s won the most seats in the October elections, but it was still far from having a majority. This left the country without a government for the longest time since 2003.
In June, 73 of al-lawmakers Sadr’s quit, which was seen as an attempt to put pressure on his opponents to form a government quickly.
The biggest group in parliament is now the Coordination Framework, which supports Iran. However, there is still no agreement on who should be the new prime minister, president, or cabinet.
Crowds of al-Sadr supporters broke through the Green Zone and went into the legislature on Wednesday. The protest on Saturday happened three days after that.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed said on Sunday from inside the parliament that the protesters have vowed to stay there until their demands are met.
“These protesters have been sleeping, praying, chanting against the Coordination Framework and chanting against [former prime minister] Nouri al-Maliki, whom they accuse of corruption and mismanagement. They say al-Sudani is a replica of al-Maliki,” he said.
“Even though local and international groups have asked for calm, these protesters seem determined to keep sitting down until their demands are met.”
Ahmed Rushdi, president of the House of Iraqi Expertise Foundation, told Al Jazeera the protesters have three factors to reach their “end game”: keeping Mustafa al-Kadhimi as a prime minister, keeping the electoral committee, and keeping the elections law.
“The three angles of the triangle are very important to get more than 100 seats in the next elections, which Sadrists said can be happening in about three to six months,” Rushdi said.
“It shows how eager they are to hold early elections with strong tools like the prime minister, the committee, and the law of elections.”
Iraq hasn’t had a bigger problem in a long time than this one. The ISIL (ISIS) group, which had taken over a third of Iraq, was defeated in 2017 with help from the US-led coalition and the Iranian military.
Two years later, Iraqis who didn’t have jobs or services went into the streets to demand an end to corruption, new elections, and the removal of all parties, especially the powerful Shia groups, that had been running the country since 2003.
Al-Sadr keeps riding the wave of public disapproval of his rivals who are backed by Iran, saying that they are corrupt and work for Tehran, not Baghdad.