In the Iraqi capital Baghdad, demonstrators stormed the parliament and started a sit-in. This was reported by the state news agency INA on Saturday. It is the second time in a few days that supporters of the influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have broken into the parliament building.
In a power struggle, the al-Sadr movement wants to prevent its political opponents around former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki from forming a government. The rivals of the 47-year-old religious leader had recently presented a candidate for prime minister a good ten months after the parliamentary elections.
From Al-Sadr’s point of view, however, the former minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, who is intended for the post, is far too close to ex-Prime Minister Al-Maliki. Al-Sadr and Al-Maliki are enemies. In addition, Al-Maliki and his alliance openly sympathize with neighboring Iran.
The incumbent Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kasimi called on the political camps to engage in dialogue. “I appeal to everyone to exercise calm, reason and patience and not to allow themselves to be carried away in a showdown.”
As eyewitnesses reported, security forces previously tried to push back thousands of demonstrators in the highly secured Green Zone with tear gas. According to the Ministry of Health, at least 125 people were injured.
Numerous government institutions and the Iraqi parliament as well as several embassies, including the US diplomatic mission, are located in the approximately ten square kilometer Green Zone in the center of Baghdad. TV pictures showed how mostly young people were in the plenary hall and held photos of al-Sadr up to the cameras.
The coalition around Al-Maliki protested sharply against the sit-in: “The state, its legitimacy, the constitutional institutions and civil peace are at stake,” it said in a statement.
Both Shiite camps – that of al-Sadr and that of al-Maliki – see themselves as opponents. Saturday was also the first day of the Shia month of mourning, Muharram, a time marked by many Shia public events and holidays.
A power struggle has been raging in Iraq since the parliamentary elections in October 2021. Al-Sadr’s list had won the most seats at the time and was trying to form a government. Most recently, however, members of his party resigned from parliament as a whole.
According to experts, Al-Sadr’s particular strength lies in his ability to mobilize crowds. Some observers therefore interpreted his withdrawal from politics as a move to put further pressure on parties and prevent a victory for the Al-Maliki alliance.
Voter turnout fell to a record low of around 41 percent in October. Many Iraqis hardly have any confidence in politics anymore. Above all, they criticize the widespread corruption.