Angered by a months-long political crisis, thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets of the capital, Baghdad, days after deadly clashes between rival Shia groups sparked fears of widespread unrest.
The non-partisan protesters streamed into western Baghdad’s Al-Nusoor Square on Friday, brandishing banners and Iraqi flags to demand a complete political overhaul.
“Protesters say they took to the streets today to demand the removal of all the political elite, whom they accuse of corruption,” Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed said from Baghdad.
“They are calling for justice for their colleagues who were killed at the hands of security forces in 2019,” Abdelwahed added, referring to the anti-government protest movement that erupted in October 2019 but has since died down.
Friday’s mobilisation follows nearly 11 months of paralysis that has left the country without a new government, prime minister or president, with Shia factions disagreeing on forming a coalition since elections last October.
Demonstrators shouted the Arab Spring slogan “People want the fall of the regime” and “Iran will not rule any more”.
“They are chanting against the Iranian-backed politicians,” Abdelwahed said. “They don’t want any government to be manipulated by Iran, whom they accuse of having ruined the country for years.”
Iraq? It's been in political turmoil for some time. If the US wanted to do diplomacy, it couldn't. The US Ambassador to Iraq, when finally confirmed, took a long time to go to Iraq. Once in Iraq, she's done very little to try to ease the political turmoil. Iraq held elections October 10th. All this time later, they've still not decided on a prime minister or even a president (the presidency is a ceremonial post). Mina Aldroubi (THE NATIONAL) explains:
The chances of more violence erupting between Iraq's rival Shiite factions are high amid uncertainty over the country's political future, particularly if caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi carries out his threat to step down, analysts have said.
At least 30 people, mostly supporters of influential cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, were killed in clashes with armed groups in the capital this week after he announced he was quitting politics.
Mr Al Sadr was frustrated in his attempts to form a government after a general election last October, despite his bloc emerging with the largest number of seats.
The cleric's followers surrounded Parliament in protest since late July, as Mr Al Sadr pressed for dissolution of the assembly and fresh elections.
His rivals in the Iran-aligned Co-ordination Framework alliance have insisted a government should be formed and there is no need for another vote.
Moqtada used his cult -- misused it -- to create violence this week. John Davison, Parisa Hafezi and Laila Bassam (REUTERS) report:
Sadr's followers tried to storm government buildings. By nightfall they were driving through Baghdad in pickup trucks brandishing machineguns and bazookas.
Armed men believed to be members of pro-Iranian militia opened fire on Sadrist demonstrators who threw stones. At least 30 people were killed.
And then, within 24 hours, it was over as suddenly as it started. Sadr returned to the airwaves and called for calm. His armed supporters and unarmed followers began leaving the streets, the army lifted an overnight curfew and a fragile calm descended upon the capital.
To understand both how the unrest broke out and how it was quelled, Reuters spoke with nearly 20 officials from the Iraqi government, Sadr's movement and rival Shiite factions seen as pro-Iranian. Most spoke on condition of anonymity.
Those interviews all pointed to a decisive intervention behind the scenes by Sistani, who has never held formal political office in Iraq but presides as the most influential scholar in its Shiite religious center, Najaf.
According to the officials, Sistani's office ensured Sadr understood that unless Sadr called off the violence by his followers, Sistani would denounce the unrest.
"Sistani sent a message to Sadr, that if he will not stop the violence then Sistani would be forced to release a statement calling for a stopping of fighting – this would have made Sadr look weak, and as if he'd caused bloodshed in Iraq," said an Iraqi government official.
Three Shiite figures based in Najaf and close to Sistani would not confirm that Sistani's office sent an explicit message to Sadr. But they said it would have been clear to Sadr that Sistani would soon speak out unless Sadr called off the unrest.
An Iran-aligned official in the region said that if it were not for Sistani's office, "Moqtada al-Sadr would not have held his press conference" that halted the fighting.
Maybe REUTERS' report will have some effect on the western press which has been enthralled with Moqtada?
The following sites updated: