Rival protests in Iraq underscore power struggle among Shiites


Supporters of Iran-backed Shiite groups rallied in Baghdad on Friday to denounce their rivals, followers of an influential Shiite cleric who stormed parliament last month and has since been staging a sit-in outside the assembly building in the Iraqi capital.

The rivalry between the two sides shows the deep divisions within Iraq’s Shia community, which makes up about 60% of the Iraqi population of more than 40 million people. Unlike the Iranian-backed groups, cleric Muqtada al-Sadr wants better ties with Arab countries, including Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia, which is Shiite Iran’s main rival in the region.

Al-Sadr has also been a harsh critic of widespread corruption in the oil-rich country torn by decades of violence, with dilapidated infrastructure, an impoverished majority and a lack of basic services.

During their demonstration on Friday, protesters from the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Iranian-backed parties, did not attempt to enter Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses Iraq’s parliament, government buildings and foreign embassies, and where Iraqi militants camp. al-Sadr’s followers. outside. Before their meeting, the authorities had closed off the road leading to the Green Zone with giant cement blocks.

The counter-protest came after al-Sadr gave the judiciary a Wednesday deadline, giving it a week to dissolve the Legislature. Al-Sadr, whose camp won the most votes in last year’s parliamentary elections last October, has been unable to form a majority government and after eight months of stalemate and maneuvering with rival Shiite factions backed by Iran, abandoned those attempts. .

Members of al-Sadr’s parliamentary bloc resigned, but instead of allowing his rivals, the Coordination Framework, to try to form a government, al-Sadr demanded that parliament be dissolved and early elections held. It is unclear if he has any legal basis for those claims.

The power struggle among the Shiites has left Iraq in political limbo and has exacerbated the economic crisis. The impasse, now in its 10th month, is the longest in the country since the US-led invasion in 2003 restored political order.

“We are protesting against the occupation of parliament and those who threaten the judiciary,” said university student Abbas Salem, who was part of Friday’s demonstration by Iranian-backed groups.

Salem carried a poster of a top Iranian general, Qassim Soleimani, and a top Iraqi Shiite militia leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in a US drone strike in January 2020. He said he is concerned that if al-Sadr forms a government, he will dissolve the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella of mostly Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

Another protester, Ahmad al-Maliki, 52, said he opposed the “occupation of parliament” by al-Sadr’s supporters, adding that Iraq needs a new government as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, al-Sadr’s supporters in Baghdad and most of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated provinces, except for the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, held their own rallies and held open-air Friday prayers in a demonstration. of strength

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